An 18-year-old Rafael Nadal made Rome debut 14 years ago, already as one of the favorites for the title after previous successes in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. The young Spaniard proved that on the court, toppling all six rivals to claim the title following an epic triumph over Guillermo Coria in the title match.
The instant chemistry between the clay warrior and eternal city was born and Rafa would win seven of nine titles between 2005-2013, becoming by far the most accomplished player at this prestigious event. Novak Djokovic stole the crown from him in 2008 before Nadal regained it the next year after beating the Serb in the final, making another victorious run in 2010 when he ousted David Ferer in the title match on May 2.
After losing just 14 games in total in Monte Carlo, Nadal skipped Barcelona and returned in Rome hungry for more wins, opening the campaign with a 6-1, 6-3 triumph over Philipp Kohlschreiber before taking down Victor Hanescu 6-3, 6-2 to reach the quarters.
Stan Wawrinka stood no chance against a mighty rival as well and Rafa sought another comfortable win against Ernests Gulbis for the place in the final. Instead of that, the Latvian pushed him to the limits for almost three hours before Nadal prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and 47 minutes, winning just two points more than his rival who almost performed one of the biggest surprises of the season.
On a rainy and cold day, Nadal defeated a compatriot David Ferrer 7-5, 6-2 in an hour and 44 minutes to lift the fifth Rome title in the last six years and the 38th overall on the ATP Tour. This was also the 17th Masters 1000 triumph for the 23-year-old Spaniard, joining Andre Agassi at the top of the all-time list and leaving Roger Federer on 16.
Rafa defeated David for the 11th time in 14 matches and the seventh time in a row since the beginning of 2008, serving at 80% and dropping just 14 points behind the initial shot, facing only one break point. Ferrer couldn't convert it and was under constant pressure in his games, giving his best in the first Masters 1000 final and staying in touch in the opening set.
In the end, Nadal found the way to break him and steal the opener, scoring three breaks of serve in total from 13 chances to seal the deal and travel home with the trophy. David had the advantage in the shortest points up to four strokes and that wasn't enough to carry him over the finish line, with Nadal ruling the court in the mid-range and more extended exchanges to forge the victory after a dominant performance in the second set.
Rafa had more winners and fewer number of unforced errors, defending the second serve nicely and winning almost every point at the net after well-constructed attacks. In the first intense moment of the match, Ferrer fended off five break points at 2-2 to avoid the break, firing a forehand winner that pushed him 3-2 ahead.
Battling against each other and the steady rain, they stayed neck and neck until game 11 when David sprayed a forehand error on game point, squandering three in total and allowing Nadal to break him and move 6-5 up. Rafa was 30-0 down on serve in the previous game and there were more troubles just around the corner in this one as well, offering David a break point that he saved with a service winner, hitting two more winners for a 7-5 after 67 minutes.
Carried by this momentum, Nadal grabbed a break in the third game of the second set before strong rain delayed the encounter. They returned to the court in the evening hours and continued under the lights, with Rafa confirming the break with a hold at love after a backhand down the line winner that pushed him closer to the finish line.
Serving at 2-4, Ferrer sprayed a forehand error to suffer another break and it was all over when Nadal held at 15 in the next game, sealing the deal with a service winner and celebrating the fifth Rome crown in the last six years.