By Alasdair Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) – Rafael Nadal proved that he would still be the man to beat when the French Open begins later this month after he humbled Novak Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 in the Italian Open final on Sunday to win a record 34th ATP Masters 1000 title.
The Spaniard, who had shared the record of 33 Masters titles with the Serbian world number one, warmed up for the defense of his Roland Garros crown by securing his ninth Rome title.
Nadal got off to a flying start by whitewashing Djokovic in the opening set. It was the first time there has been a 6-0 set during a meeting between the two rivals.
Djokovic took the second by breaking Nadal’s serve for the first time while leading 5-4, but the second seed responded in style by storming through the decisive set.
When Nadal’s previous three claycourt tournaments had ended in semi-final defeats, it no doubt gave his rivals hope that his long reign at Roland Garros could be coming to an end this year.
However, the way he demolished the world’s top ranked player in the opening and third sets on Sunday would have once again struck fear into any of those challengers who had been harboring hopes of lifting the Musketeers’ Cup on June 9.
The Spaniard heads into Roland Garros in top form after seeing his serve broken just twice en route to claiming his first title of 2019 in his 50th Masters final.
“For me it’s always an honor to be here, I still remember my first time here in 2005,” said Nadal, who will be chasing a record extending 12th French Open title when the claycourt major begins on May 26.
“To have the chance to come back and win this trophy after so many years means everything. It wasn’t an easy week for me.”
The 32-year-old left Djokovic in a daze as he stormed through the opening set in 39 blistering minutes.
The top seed fought back in the second as he saved four break points before winning the decisive game on Nadal’s serve to take the set 6-4.
But the Serb, who had survived three-set battles against Argentines Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman to reach the final, faded in the final set as he dropped his opening service game before Nadal surged clear.
“I’m really glad that I managed to get into the third set, considering the first set where I was blown away from the court,” Djokovic said.
“Obviously third set was not much different from the first. I was just running out of fuel a little bit today. Just kind of missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side.
“He used it very well. He’s been playing some terrific tennis throughout the entire week. He was just too strong today.”
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, editing by Pritha Sarkar)