(Reuters) – Rafa Nadal warmed up for the French Open with a battling 7-5 1-6 6-3 win over world number one Novak Djokovic as the Spaniard claimed a record-extending 10th Italian Open title in Rome on Sunday in the latest chapter of their rivalry.
After a mid-match wobble, Nadal turned up the heat in the decisive moments of his 57th meeting with top seed Djokovic – the pair’s ninth in Rome – to secure the victory over the defending champion in two hours and 49 minutes.
“I was lucky in some moments, especially against (Denis) Shapovalov,” Nadal said, referring to the round of 16 match he won in a tiebreak in the decider.
“And then I think I played a good tournament, I have been playing better and better, finding my rhythm on clay. I had a very positive week and I’m very happy.
“It’s amazing to have this trophy in my hands for the 10th time. It’s something impossible to imagine but it happened so I’m super happy and can’t thank my team enough.”
Nadal broke to go ahead 6-5 in a tight opening set and staved off a late comeback attempt from Djokovic to take the early advantage in the contest with a searing inside-out forehand that caught the Serbian off guard.
But Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in their previous meeting in the Roland Garros final last year, pounced in the second set to race ahead 5-1 as the Spaniard’s intensity dropped and quickly levelled the match at one set apiece.
Second seed Nadal then saved two break points at 2-2 in the decider and fired an emphatic shot down the line to hold, before switching gears to complete the win and match Djokovic’s record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles.
Nadal will now target a 14th French Open crown when the claycourt Grand Slam begins on May 30.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris and Christian Radnedge)