Rafael Nadal won the Italian Open title over rival Novak Djokovic in three sets on Sunday, and is now poised to win his 14th Roland Garros title and record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title next month.
World No. 3 Nadal outlasted No. 1 Djokovic, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 to win his 10th Italian Open title. Nadal has now won titles in Barcelona and Rome entering the French Open beginning May 30.
Djokovic still leads Nadal, 29-28, all-time, but Nadal leads 6-3 in Rome and 19-7 on clay. Djokovic, 33, is ahead 15-13 in finals and 16-13 in Masters 1000s matches. The victory also earned Nadal a 36th ATP Masters 1000 crown, equalling Djokovic’s record since the series was established in 1990. Djokovic will enter Paris with 18 Grand Slam titles, third all-time among men.
“It’s a very satisfying [victory],” Nadal said in his post-match press conference. “It’s amazing [to] have the trophy with me again one more time here in Rome. The 10th, I really wanted this 10th here in Rome. It was one of the first important titles that I won in my career.
“After achieving 10 in Roland Garros, 10 in Monte-Carlo, 10 in Barcelona, I really wanted this one.”
Nadal, 34, enters the French Open as the favorite to to break his tie with Roger Federer for first place among men with 21 major titles. Federer, 39, will play this week in Geneva after not having played since Dubai earlier this year.
Per DraftKings.com, Nadal is +100 favorite to win the French Open, followed by Djokovic at +300, Dominic Thiem at +600 and Stefanos Tsitsipas at +800, per DraftKings.
With his 88th tour-level title, Nadal moved into the sixth place in the ATP points rankings. He sits just 10 points behind world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and 30 points behind Alexander Zverev, who is in fourth place.
Djokovic spent nearly five hours on court (4hrs, 56 mins) Saturday after winning his rain-delayed quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas and a semifinal epic against Lorenzo Sonego to reach the final, while Nadal needed an hour and a half to take down American Reilly Opelka.
Djokovic, who was bidding to record his first win on clay against the Spaniard since the 2016 Rome quarterfinals, showed few signs of fatigue in the opening set against Nadal. The Serbian raced out to a 2-0 lead by staying aggressive and keeping the points short. But Nadal broke straight back, and his forehand speed steadily climbed as the match unfolded, earning 15 of his 21 winners in the first set and 26 of 37 overall.
“I think I have been playing better and better with my forehand the past couple of weeks, getting to the confidence point,” Nadal said. “[There were] moments [that] I could change more times down the line than what I did… But the positive thing is the winners and the solutions with my forehand have been much better than the past couple of weeks.
“That’s a huge improvement for me, [a] very important shot. Especially on clay it’s gives me confidence.”
(The ATP contributed)