The Masters 1000 series kicked off in 1990 (not in the current format, though), and three clay-court events were the most significant ones ahead of Roland Garros. Players were battling for the prestigious titles in Monte Carlo, Hamburg and Rome, with no one capable of winning more than six trophies.
Thomas Muster was the leader of the pack for years, and that all changed in 2005 when Rafael Nadal burst onto the scene, conquering Monte Carlo and Rome to forge the incredible journey that has led his towards 25 titles. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have been Nadal's main rivals, reaching 33 Masters 1000 finals on clay and lifting 16 titles.
The most recent one came on Monday in Rome when Novak Djokovic became the second player with ten Masters 1000 clay-court titles. Novak also moved ahead of Roger Federer with 17 finals on the slowest surface at this level, leaving the Swiss on 16.
Nadal is miles in front with 32 and there's no one behind Roger and Novak, with the fourth-ranked Thomas Muster competing in seven finals. Novak claimed the tenth Masters 1000 trophy on clay and 36th overall following a 7-5, 6-3 triumph over Diego Schwartzman in an hour and 53 minutes.
World no. 1 got broken thrice (twice at the beginning of the match), stealing Schwartzman's serve five times to seal the deal and notch the 31st victory in 32 encounters in 2020. Novak wasted a game point and suffered a break when his backhand found the net in the first game.
Competing in his first Masters 1000 final, Schwartzman fired unexpected four service winners in game two, securing it after a wrongly-judged drop shot from Novak and cementing the break to move 2-0 up. Struggling to find the rhythm in light rain, Novak sprayed two backhand errors to suffer another break, trailing 3-0 after 18 minutes.
Having to raise his level, Novak started to hit the ball better in the fourth game, converting a break chance after Schwartzman's double fault to get his name on the scoreboard.
Novak Djokovic became the second player with 17 Masters 1000 finals on clay.
Attacking with more accuracy and depth, Novak held at 15 with an ace to reduce the deficit to 2-3, securing another break to level the score at 3-3.
Djokovic held at 15 in game seven, rattling off 16 of the previous 21 points and moving in front for the first time, looking much better than in the opening 20 minutes. At 30-15 in game eight, Diego fired a perfect forehand down the line winner, sealing it with a service winner for 4-4.
Djokovic fended off a crucial break point in the next one with a volley winner, landing another for a significant hold and a 5-4 advantage. Serving to stay in the set, Schwartzman erased a set point with a bold forehand winner, bringing the game home after two deuces and a backhand down the line winner that produced more drama.
Novak opened a 6-5 lead after deuce, forcing the rival to serve for staying in the set for the second time. Pushing strong on the return, Djokovic converted the fourth set point for 7-5 after 70 minutes, gaining a massive boost ahead of set number two.
Starting all over, Diego kicked off the second set with a break at 15, ready to give his best in the most important match in a career. Bouncing back immediately, Djokovic leveled the score at 1-1 when Schwartzman's forehand landed wide, placing a winner at the net for a commanding hold in game three.
The Argentine fired four winners in the next one for 2-2, squandering two break chances in the fifth game that would cost him dearly. Diego stayed in contention, holding with a reliable drop shot before Djokovic opened a 4-3 lead.
Cracking under pressure, Schwartzman sprayed errors in game eight to get broken at love following a backhand down the line winner from Djokovic, who held at 30 to seal the deal and celebrate the 36th Masters 1000 crown.