After pushing Spaniard Rafael Nadal to the limit in Monte Carlo two weeks ago, Serbian Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, fancied his chances of retaining the title. But, Nadal once more proved his invincibility on clay defeating Djokovic 7-6, 6-2 in the finals of the ATP Masters Internazionali BNL d’Italia for a record setting fourth trophy at this venue.
Leading 40-15 in the first set’s opening game, Djokovic committed two forehand errors while Nadal converted a forehand up the line winner for break point. Then, Nadal capitalized on another Djokovic error in a long rally for the advantage. With mistake after mistake by Novak, Rafael sprinted to a 2-0 lead. After calming down, Djokovic finally got on the board with a forehand down the line winner. With Nadal serving at 3-2, Djokovic for the first time got to 30 all. Nadal rescued the game for a 4-2 advantage due to a net court winner. Still, there was a sense that the tides were possibly shifting. Djokovic had an easier time holding serve while inserting himself more and more into Nadal’s service games. At 5-4 with Nadal serving to close the set, he made three forehand unforced errors permitting Djokovic to level things. Untroubled by the previous game though, Rafael caused Novak to net a backhand crosscourt then produced a dipping forehand which the Serbian was unable to volley giving the Spaniard double break point which he converted for 6-5. Except, Nadal again had problems with the forehand and was broken after having set point. Thus, it was on to a tiebreaker. As a result of bad judgment by Djokovic, including dropshots which never cleared the net, Nadal bedded the first set.
Nadal started the second set prevailing in long rallies for 40-0; Djokovic countered with three consecutive forehand winners for deuce. When Nadal’s forehand up the line went out of bounce, Djokovic arrived at break point. Yet, Nadal responded with a forehand down the line winner to salvage the game. Serving at 1-2, Djokovic ran into trouble with too many errors. Nevertheless, with a couple of wide serves and backhand winners, the Serb forbade the Spaniard from doing any damage. Nadal, under fire on his own serve after a double fault, curled in a forehand up the line winner to stay ahead 3-2. In the sixth game, Djokovic avoided going down 0-30 with a reflex backhand volley winner after Nadal crushed a forehand down the line. Ahead 40-15, Djokovic misfired twice with the backhand, dumped a forehand crosscourt into the net and double faulted to gift Nadal a break for 4-2. After easily consolidating, Nadal curved a forehand pass for a winner to break Djokovic and win the match.
What a difference a year makes! Last May, Nadal was fighting off Djokovic just to retain the number two ranking. By prevailing in Rome, the Spaniard claims his 15th Masters’ shield and is now two behind the all-time leader Andre Agassi. Moreover, with his 25th clay title, at 22, Nadal is five shy of the mark set by the great Bjorn Borg. With this lost, Djokovic cedes the number three spot to Andy Murray albeit the latter exited in the second round in Rome. Despite falling to Djokovic in the semifinals, Roger Federer hangs on to the number two ranking although by his finger nails.