Novak Djokovic fought back to stun defending champion and seven-time winner Rafael Nadal to claim the Rome Masters 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Sunday.
Serbia’s world number two Djokovic claimed his third title on the red clay of Rome, having won in 2008 and 2011, the latter with victory over his Spanish rival.
Sunday’s win was also Djokovic’s 19th career Masters title and his 19th win against Nadal in 41 meetings.
Nadal had been looking to stretch his record of seven titles in the Italian capital.
But despite a dominant first-set display the world number one allowed unforced errors to creep into his game as Djokovic launched a valiant fightback to put himself in pole position to win a first title at the forthcoming French Open.
Nadal came into Sunday’s final expected to claim an eighth Rome title having won at the Foro Italico every year since 2005 except in 2008 and 2011.
He booked his final ticket with a straightforward win over outclassed 12th seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, while Djokovic had been stretched by hard-hitting Canadian Milos Raonic.
It certainly seemed it would be Nadal’s day when he broke the Serb twice on his way to a quick 4-1 lead in the opening set, which he went on to win 6-4 as Djokovic made a series of unforced errors.
Djokovic, however, pulled his game together early in the second set, breaking Nadal’s serve as early as the second game.
Although Nadal defiantly broke back to 3-2, Djokovic went on to level the contest, taking the second set 6-3.
Djokovic had hit eight forehand and four backhand winners to Nadal’s one in the second set, and the Serb carried the momentum into the deciding set, breaking Nadal early for a 2-0 lead.
Nadal pumped his fists when he saved serve in a tightly-contested fifth game and was given more hope when he broke to 3-3 in the next.
But the 27-year-old crucially hit a forehand return long in the next game to hand Djokovic the break and a 4-3 lead.
Djokovic held on to his service game and with Nadal struggling broke the Spaniard again to seal a memorable win.
Serena claims 60th career title
World number one Serena Williams warmed up for the defence of her French Open crown by cruising to her second straight Italian Open title with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Sara Errani of Italy.
Errani had been looking to become the first Italian winner of the women’s event in 29 years.
But with six previous defeats to her American rival, her bid was always going to be difficult and was hampered after she picked up a thigh injury at the end of the first set.
“It’s a shame she got injured, but I thought she was playing really well before that,” said Serena, who now has 60 career titles.
“I think she definitely improved since last year but I think I could have played a bit better. I was a little slow and nervous at the start, I wasn’t hitting my shots as well as I should have been.”
A tearful Errani apologised to her home fans for her display.
“I’m sorry. You have been wonderful all week, and I only continued playing because of you.”
From the outset, however, Serena never looked in danger of facing an upset as her Italian opponent struggled with the sheer pace and power of the American’s game.
Having benefited from huge crowd support during a 6-4, 6-4 semi-final win over Serbian sixth seed Jelena Jankovic on Saturday, this time the calls of support for Errani appeared to fall on deaf ears.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2014.