Rome, May 16 (EFE).- Spain’s Rafael Nadal on Sunday secured his 10th Masters 1,000 tennis tourney at the Italian Open in Rome by defeating Serbia’s No. 1-ranked title defender Novak Djokovic 7-5, 1-6 and 6-3 in a grueling match lasting two hours and 49 minutes.
Nadal, ranked No. 3 in the world, thus equaled the 36 ATP Masters 1,000 triumphs of Djokovic and took home his second title of the year after winning in Barcelona.
It was the 29th time that the Spaniard had prevailed over the Serb in their 57 ATP Tour level encounters.
Djokovic didn’t seem to be any the worse after winning two matches on Saturday – the quarter-final event against Stefanos Tsitsipas and the semi-final clash against Lorenzo Sonego.
Meanwhile, Nadal, who had beaten American Reilly Opelka in just 90 minutes in their semi-final faceoff, seemed a little slow off the mark, losing the first two games of the opening set against Djokovic on Sunday, although he took the next two to make it 2-2.
Nadal broke the Serb in the 11th game of the first set, going ahead 6-5 and then took the final game to win the first set 7-5.
Then, however, it was all Djokovic in the second set as he broke his rival’s serve twice – in the fourth and sixth games – clearly dominating the set and pocketing it 6-1 in just 44 minutes.
The decider set was hard-fought, with Djokovic forcing two break points and putting the contest at 2-2, although Nadal managed to step up his game, breaking Djokovic to get out in front 4-2, then trading games for 5-3, when the Spaniard served, the gamewinning point coming when the Serb returned a shot past the baseline.
Some 2,917 fans were on hand for the final, just one-fourth of the venue’s capacity, for the first encounter this year between the longstanding – and virtually even – rivals.
Nadal’s 10th Italian Open win comes 16 years after he won it the first time in 2005 against Argentina’s Guillermo Coria.
Djokovic lost to Nadal in their most recent meeting at the Roland Garros final last year, and the Spaniard will now be gunning for a 14th French Open title when the Grand Slam tourney kicks off on May 30.