Rafael Nadal defeated his greatest rival Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to win a ninth Italian Open title and a record 34rd Masters on Sunday, leaving his vanquished foe to label the Spaniard as “the number one favourite for Roland Garros”.
World No. 1 Djokovic, winner at the Madrid Open last week, produced an error-strewn performance in his 54th meeting with second-ranked Nadal, who claimed the 81st title of his career.
“It’s always an honour for me,” said Nadal after securing his first title of 2019.
“I remember my first time here in 2005. To still be here with this trophy so many years later means a lot of me.”
Djokovic had beaten Nadal in the final of the Australian Open this year for his third straight Grand Slam win after Wimbledon and the US Open.
Nadal overtakes Djokovic at the top of the list for Masters wins -- the pair were level at 33 each before Sunday’s final -- in a timely boost ahead of his assault on a 12th French Open crown in a week’s time.
“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,” said Djokovic.
“The second set was obviously better. Had my chances in first couple games, I thought, in the third set. Then he ran away from me.”
After three semifinal defeats in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal has returned to his best form ahead of Roland Garros.
“Nadal, number one favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else,” said Djokovic of his predictions for Roland Garros.
The Spaniard dominated early with Djokovic losing a set 6-0 for the first time to a player he describes as his “greatest rival”.
Djokovic had played six hours in his previous two matches.
“I was just running out of fuel a little bit today,” said four-time Rome winner Djokovic.
“But I started a bit slower. I wasn’t as fresh in my legs. He used it. Just kind of missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side.
“He’s been playing some terrific tennis throughout the entire week. He was just too strong today.
“It was a great week, considering I was one shot away to lose quarterfinals against del Potro. To get to the finals is really a great result.”