ATP Rome: Rafael Nadal topples Novak Djokovic for fourth ‘La Decima’

In the battle of the most dominant Foro Italico players over the past 16 years, Rafael Nadal secured the tenth Rome Open title following a hard-fought 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 victory over world no. 1 and the five-time winner Novak Djokovic. It was the 28th win for Rafa over Novak overall and the 19th on clay from 26 encounters, beating his greatest rival for the fifth time on the slowest surface. Djokovic had to win two challenging matches on Saturday to reach the final, giving his best against the king of clay but losing ground in the decider to hand the trophy to his opponent and remain on one title in 2021. Both players scored three breaks, and Nadal delivered his in the crucial moments to cross the finish line first and lift the trophy. The opening set lasted for an hour and 15 minutes, and two great rivals turned it into an instant classic. Nadal won three points more than Novak and grabbed the last three games from 4-5 to emerge at the top, dominating with his forehand and beating the Serb in the shortest exchanges up to four strokes.

The defending champion forced Nadal’s error in the first game for a hold at 30 and converted the third break chance a few minutes later when Rafa sprayed a backhand mistake. Nadal earned a break chance in the next game and seized it when Djokovic’s backhand landed wide, pulling the break back and gathering confidence. The Spaniard grabbed the fourth game with a service winner, and they both served well in the following two to stay locked at 3-3. Rafa created a break chance in the seventh game with a forehand winner before tripping over the plastic line that forced him to fall and barely avoid injury. Novak saved a break point and closed the game to prevent the deficit before three straight holds at 30 that brought them to 5-5. At 40-30 in game 11, Novak hit a double fault and got broken after a loose forehand to push Rafa in front for the first time. Djokovic lost energy in those moments and Nadal held after a powerful forehand in game 12 that secured the opener for him following a grueling battle.

Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic for the tenth Rome Open title.

Novak closed the second set’s opening game with a hold at 30, and Rafa did the same in game two with a service winner to level the score at 1-1. The Serb saved a break point in the third game with an efficient serve & forehand combo and secured his first break in over an hour in game four after forcing the Spaniard’s error that sent him 3-1 ahead. Novak confirmed the break after deuce in game five to extend the lead, with Rafa starting to spray more and more errors. Playing on a high level, Djokovic created a break chance in game six with a backhand down the line winner, denied by a service winner from Nadal, who in the end suffered a break when his backhand found the net.

The defending champion converted the third set point at 5-1 to complete a marvelous set and gather a massive boost ahead of the decider. In the first tight game of the final set, Nadal fended off two break chances at 2-2 and closed the game with a powerful forehand down the line winner that Djokovic couldn’t reach. Playing the best return game of the entire clash, Nadal grabbed a break at love with a backhand down the line winner in game six, opening a 4-2 lead and moving closer to the finish line. Serving to confirm the advantage, Rafa placed a forehand crosscourt winner and forced Novak to serve for staying in the match. Novak saved a match point in the eighth game before Rafa sealed the deal on his serve to celebrate the tenth Rome Open crown, 16 years after the first one! 

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