Nadal beats a tired Djokovic for 10th Italian Open title

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Poland’s Iga Swiatek celebrates after defeating Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova at the final match of the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Sunday, May 16, 2021. Swiatek won 6-0, 6-0. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME (AP) — Rafael Nadal beat a tired Novak Djokovic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 for a record-extending 10th Italian Open title on Sunday.

The Spaniard recovered from a potentially dangerous fall after tripping over a raised line to take the latest installment of the most-played rivalry in modern men’s tennis.

“To have this trophy in my hands for the 10th time is something hard to believe,” Nadal said, recalling how he won his first title at the Foro Italico in 2005 as an 18-year-old, when he beat Guillermo Coria in a match lasting more than five hours.

“Now, 16 years later, to play in the final again is incredible,” Nadal said in Italian during the trophy presentation. “It’s difficult to describe. Without a doubt this is one of the most important places in my career.”

The title also re-established Nadal as the overwhelming favorite for the French Open, where he will be aiming for an even harder-to-believe 14th title starting in two weeks.

Nadal beat Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s Roland Garros final.

The top-ranked Djokovic spent nearly five hours on court Saturday, when he had to rally for a rain-delayed quarterfinal victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas before winning another three-setter over local favorite Lorenzo Sonego in the semifinals. Nadal played only once on Saturday, beating Reilly Opelka in 1 ½ hours.

In the women’s final, reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek routed Karolina Pliskova with a “double bagel” 6-0 6-0.

It was the 57th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic, which is the most matches between two men in the Open era. It was also their ninth meeting in Rome, where they have played more than anywhere else.

Djokovic now holds the slimmest of edges in the all-time series, 29-28, while Nadal holds a 6-3 advantage in Rome overall and 4-2 in Rome finals.

The 10,500-seat Campo Centrale stadium was only a quarter full due to the coronavirus pandemic. But those lucky few in attendance on an overcast day at the Foro Italico made themselves heard, shouting Djokovic’s nickname, “Nole, Nole,” on the big points, or “C’mon Rafa.”

For the second time this week, Nadal tripped over a line that appeared slightly raised on the center court of the Foro Italico. The incident, which resulted in a bloody scrape near the Spaniard’s left knee, made Nadal livid.

At 3-3 in the first set, Nadal chased down a short ball from Djokovic and whipped a cross-court passing shot for a winner. Then his momentum made him slide into the doubles alley and his left foot tripped over the outside line, causing him to roll over onto the clay.

Nadal got up immediately and jabbed his arm into the air angrily and had a word with the chair umpire, who called on court workers to hammer the line further into the clay court.

Nadal had a similar fall in his quarterfinal victory over Alexander Zverev.

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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