World number 2 Rafael Nadal has won his eight Masters 1000 crown in Rome and the 32nd overall after a 6-1 1-6 6-4 triumph over the Madrid champion and the 2nd seed Alexander Zverev, scoring his fifth win in as many matches against the young German. It was a solid clash between the players who have shared the previous two Masters 1000 tournaments in Monte Carlo and Madrid, and the winner was decided after a rain delay at 3-2 for Zverev in the final set.
The more experienced player came back stronger, he pulled the break back immediately and brought the match home with another one to lift his 78th ATP title and the 56th on clay. Alexander did everything right after losing the opening set and he was a break up when the rain sent them off the court, never finding his rhythm again and missing a chance to grab already his fourth Masters 1000 title at the age of 21 and defend the title he has won against Novak Djokovic 12 months ago (he has won 13 matches prior to this final, with titles in Munich and Madrid).
With this triumph and 1000 points he has won, Nadal would return to number 1 spot in the ATP rankings tomorrow, losing it to Roger Federer after a quarter-final defeat in Madrid to Dominic Thiem. It wasn't the best serving performance from Nadal, having to play against 11 break points and suffering four breaks of serve.
On the other hand, he has managed to tame Zverev's initial shot, winning almost 50% of the return points and earning five breaks from six chances, including two straight breaks after the rain delay, which determined the champion.
Nadal had 19 winners and 21 unforced errors while Zverev counted to 21 winners and 28 errors, missing too many shots from his forehand and not being able to hurt Nadal with his initial shot, that worked so well in Madrid and earlier here in Rome.
Zverev kicked off the match in a perfect way, breaking Nadal at 30 in the opening game before the Spaniard took charge, rattling off 25 out of the last 32 points of the set for a 6-1! He broke back at love in game two with a drop shot winner and held at love in game three with a service winner to move in front.
Sascha failed to make an impact with his serve and Rafa broke him again in game four with a forehand cross court winner, moving 4-1 in front with another hold in game five. Things went from bad to worse for the German and he wasted a 40-0 lead in the sixth game to get broken again after a forehand winner from Nadal, who held at 15 in game seven to clinch the opener in just 33 minutes.
Zverev has won just five points on his serve and he struggled to find the range with his serve and forehand, unable to move Nadal from the comfort zone or to impose his shots in the rallies. Things have changed dramatically in set number two, with Zverev serving at 77% and losing just six points in his games while Nadal faded from the court to suffer two straight breaks and lose the set 6-1, which is very rare for him on his beloved clay.
Sascha forced an error from his rival in game two to gain the lead and he jumped into a 4-0 lead after a picture-perfect backhand down the line winner in game four, determined to keep the points on his racquet and force Nadal to play from the awkward positions.
The German completed an amazing set with another backhand down the line winner in game seven, hitting 12 winners in this part of the match compared to only one from Nadal to enter the third set with the momentum on his side.
Rafa lost his serve at the start of the decider as well and he could hear the alarm bells as he couldn't do much on Zverev's serve. Sascha held with ease in games two and four as well to create a 3-1 gap and Nadal managed to make a crucial hold in game five before the bigger rain, staying within one break deficit as they headed off the court for a 50-minute rain delay.
Serving for a 4-2 advantage once they returned, Zverev wasted a game point and Rafa broke back to level the score at 3-3 and gain a huge boost before the rest of the match. The Spaniard held in the following game after a forehand error from Zverev and he broke again in game eight to win his fourth straight game and get a chance to serve for the triumph.
Rafa sealed the deal with a magical backhand volley at the net, celebrating his first title in Rome since 2013 and his 32nd Masters 1000 triumph, heading to Paris as the top favorite to lift his 11th Roland Garros title. Final result: