Nadal 16 MONDAY, MAY 20, 2019 triumphs in Rome | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Nadal 16 MONDAY, MAY 20, 2019 triumphs in Rome

Rafael Nadal is right back where he wants to be. After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Nadal dominated for stretches against his longtime rival, Novak Djokovic, in a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win yesterday for a record-extending ninth Italian Open title. It marked the first time in an Open Era-record 54 meetings, and in their 142nd set against each other, that Nadal won a set against Djokovic without conceding a game — otherwise known as a bagel.

The timing for Nadal’s return to form could not have been more opportune, as he will seek a record-extending 12th title at the French Open next weekend. “Winning a title is important but for me the most important thing is feel myself competitive, feel myself healthy,” Nadal said. “Then with the feeling that I am improving. I know if I’m able to reach my level you can win, you can lose, but normally I’m going to have my chances, especially on this surface.”

Top-ranked Djokovic, meanwhile, appeared exhausted after spending more than 5 ½ hours on court against Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman the previous two days. Djokovic was also coming off the Madrid Open title last week. “I don’t want to talk about fatigue or things like that,” Djokovic said. “Rafa was simply too strong today.” The Foro Italico crowd continually tried to encourage Djokovic with chants of “Vai Nole!” — Go Nole! — but the top-ranked Serb struggled with his overhead and drop shots.

Midway through the second set, Nadal chased down a lob with an over-the-shoulder shot and Djokovic’s ensuing overhead landed in the net to conclude a long point. Djokovic again netted an overhead in the next game and then kicked the ball in frustration when he missed a drop shot attempt late in the second. But Djokovic hung around in the second and converted his first set point when a looping forehand from Nadal sailed wide for his first break of the match. As he walked to his chair after winning the second set, Djokovic waved his arms to get the crowd behind him.

However, Djokovic didn’t have much left in the tank. When Nadal pushed Djokovic deep into the corner in the opening game of the third set and Djokovic’s desperation lob sailed long to hand Nadal a break, Djokovic smashed his racket to the clay three times in frustration and received a warning from the chair umpire. Djokovic won only 29 per cent of points on his second serve and committed 39 unforced errors to Nadal’s 17. Also, Nadal won 23 of 31 rallies with nine or more shots.