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How The Rome Final Was Won: Djokovic Dethrones Nadal

Rome, Italy

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic had the upper hand against Rafael Nadal in a rematch of their thrilling 2013 Roland Garros semi-final.

Top seed and seven-time champion Rafael Nadal was dethroned by rival and World No. 2 Novak Djokovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, as they met for the 41st time in the final of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

Djokovic added a third Rome title after prevailing in 2008 (d. Wawrinka) and 2011 (d. Nadal) and has won eight of the previous nine sets in the FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with the Spaniard. The Serbian's third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown of the year, following triumphs in Indian Wells and Miami, brings his haul to 19 trophies.

Nadal was contesting his ninth Rome final and 40th at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. He saw his 14-match win streak at the Foro Italico snapped.

Nadal vs. Djokovic : The Rivalry

Here is how the final unfolded...

FIRST SET – Nadal 6-4

A battle royale akin to an ancient Roman duel at the Coliseum, Djokovic and Nadal entered the Foro Italico, retracing the footsteps of warriors past. On a sun-drenched Sunday in May, two of the game’s fiercest gladiators set foot on one of its grandest stages, but only one would be anointed the Roman conqueror.

In their most recent meeting, the Sony Open Tennis final, Djokovic dominated in all facets, refusing to yield an inch from the baseline as Nadal’s error count uncharacteristically grew over the course of the 6-3, 6-3 defeat. The World No. 1’s cannon topspin forehand was successfully doused by Djokovic’s impenetrable defence, striking 11 unforced errors off the wing.

The Serb continued to employ a high-risk, high-reward gameplan against Nadal as proceedings commenced in Rome. Three consecutive unforced errors from the two-time champion would give Nadal an immediate 0/40 look at 1-1. The top seed would convert on his third break point with a sensational drop volley following a bruising rally.

After spending a combined 10 hours on court through four matches this week, Nadal showed no signs of fatigue, using his cat-like agility and injecting his trademark topspin pace to snatch a double break lead at 4-1. Djokovic misfired on seven unforced errors on his preferred backhand wing through the first five games.

The Belgrade native began to find his range as the set wore on and he would grab a break back for 2-4, as Nadal let his foot off the gas. In a stunning turn of events, Djokovic would earn a 0/40 peak in his rival’s next service game, on the doorstep of pulling even. But Nadal would not be deterred, dramatically digging in to survive the sudden offensive onslaught.

Nadal would hold, and after a service winner gave him his first set point at 5-4, Djokovic sent a return wide of the tramline to give the opener to the defending champion after 46 minutes.

SECOND SET – Djokovic 6-3

After a first set that saw Nadal impressively win 75 per cent of second serve points, Djokovic would open the second set with considerable heat on his returns, breaking immediately for a 2-0 advantage after rifling a cross-court forehand passing shot.

Nadal dominated in rallies of over nine shots in the opening set, 6-2, but Djokovic turned the tables in extended exchanges in the early stages of the second, sprinting to a 3-0 lead after consolidating the break.

In the previous 10 encounters between the two heavyweights, the player that won the first set went on to win the match. Djokovic looked primed to buck the trend, but a string of forehand errors while serving up 3-1 40/0 would give Nadal his first break point of the set and the Man from Mallorca would not be denied.

As has been the case in previous battles between these two gladiators, the ebbs and flows of their 41st meeting were nothing short of unpredictable. A Nadal double fault gave the break right back to Djokovic and the Serb would rediscover his rhythm in an instant, holding to love for a 5-2 edge.

The Belgrade native rushed the net with authority to open the ninth game of the set, and he would send an ace out wide to bring the Italian faithful to their feet and take the final to a decider.

Djokovic dominated second serve points in the set, winning 69 per cent (to Nadal’s 29 per cent) and fired 18 winners (to Nadal’s three).

THIRD SET – Djokovic 6-3

Djokovic carried the momentum into the third set as he maintained his offensive barrage from the baseline. An overzealous backhand from Nadal handed the opening break to the second seed, who would win the first eight baseline points of the set.

With Hall of Famers John Newcombe and Manuel Santana looking on, Djokovic would garner a break point for a seemingly insurmountable double-break lead, as he continued to apply pressure with effective net approaches and superior play off the ground. But Nadal would quell the Serbian surge, authoritatively putting away a short ball at the net to hold for 1-2.

Djokovic continued to drive Nadal further behind the baseline as he stood tall, dictating supremely from the back of the court and assaulting the Spaniard’s second serve with return winners.

The two competitors would exchange breaks of serve once again, with Djokovic nudging in front for 4-3, and he would win nine of 10 points to pull within two points of the finish line at 5-3 0/30. The World No. 2 crunched one down-the-line winner after another in the final two games and he would convert on his second match point when a Nadal forehand flew long.

Djokovic wins his third Rome title and fourth straight meeting with Nadal, proving to be sharper from the baseline and more efficient on serve over the course of two hours and 19 minutes. The key to the match was second serve points won, with Djokovic making considerable inroads in his opponent’s serve in the second and third sets. His 46 winners, 15 from the backhand side, and six aces were too much for Nadal to overcome.

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