Rome Reckoning: Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic's Inaugural Clash

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic battled at the Rome Masters in 2007

by Jovica Ilic
Rome Reckoning: Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic's Inaugural Clash
© Stream screenshot

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have been the dominant figures at the Rome Masters since 2005, clinching 16 titles! Novak and Rafa have embraced nine Foro Italico duels, with the Spaniard taking six. Also, Nadal leads 4-2 in the title matches, beating Djokovic in 40% of his successful title clashes in the Italian capital!

Their first Rome Masters match came in the 2007 quarter-final, and the defending champion Nadal produced a rock-solid 6-2, 6-3 victory in an hour and 41 minutes, extending his incredible streak on clay. Rafa controlled the pace and defeated Novak for the third time in four encounters, serving well and delivering two breaks in each set.

They both served above 70%, and Djokovic could not take advantage of that in his games. The Serb dropped half of the points behind the initial shot and played against 12 break points. He denied eight, but the Spaniard made the difference with four breaks on his tally.

Novak Djokovic, Rome 2007© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafa's first serve worked like a charm, and he took 28 out of 34 points after landing it in. The defending champion faced one break point, saving it and mounting the pressure on the other side following a rock-solid display.

Djokovic could not follow that pace, playing against 12 break points and getting broken two times in each set. Rafa landed 30 winners and 12 unforced errors, building the advantage in the mid-range and most extended exchanges.

Novak missed a couple of forehands in the first game of the encounter, losing serve and pushing the defending champion in front. Rafa cemented the lead with a hold at 15 in game two and created four break points in the third game.

Djokovic saved them and held with a smash winner, reducing the deficit and getting his name on the scoreboard. Nadal left those chances behind and fired forehand winners in the fourth game, producing another fine hold and moving 3-1 in front.

Rafael Nadal, Rome 2007© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played their first Rome Masters match in 2007.

The Spaniard landed a forehand winner in the fifth game, creating another break chance.

Novak saved it with a forehand down the line winner and erased two more, holding and remaining within one break deficit. Thus, the Serb saved seven break points in back-to-back service games, earning at least some momentum.

Djokovic landed a forehand crosscourt winner in the sixth game for 30-0, creating a break chance after Nadal's forehand error. Rafa saved it with a forced error and closed the game with a drop shot winner that sent him 4-2 in front.

The Spaniard created three break points in the seventh game and converted the second after the Serb's volley mistake, securing his second break and forging a 5-2 advantage. Rafa served for the set in game eight and generated set points with a backhand down the line winner.

He converted the second, wrapping up the opener 6-2 after 49 minutes.

Rafael Nadal, Rome 2007© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Novak held at 15 at the beginning of the second set before Rafa closed the second game with a service winner for 1-1.

Djokovic grabbed the third game with a powerful serve, and Nadal clinched the next one to remain on the positive side after the rival's wayward backhands. Rafa extended the fifth game with forehand winners before Novak secured it with a forced error, opening a 3-2 advantage.

Nadal clinched the sixth game with two strong forehands at 30-30 and made a push on the return in the next one. The Spaniard created two break points in the seventh game with a backhand winner and seized the first after the Serb's forehand error, moving 4-3 in front and closer to the finish line.

Rafa cemented the break with a forehand winner in game eight, opening a 5-3 gap and forcing Novak to serve to stay in the match. Djokovic sprayed a volley error in the ninth game for 0-30 and faced three match points after Nadal's backhand down the line winner.

Rafael Nadal, Rome 2007© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafa converted the first, sealing the deal in style and extending his winning streak in Rome and on the beloved surface. Seventeen years later, Nadal and Djokovic are in the Rome Masters draw again, but with different roles.

Novak is world no. 1 and the top seed, seeking his seventh Foro Italico trophy. The Serb has yet to win a title in 2024, but he hopes to change that at one of his favorite tournaments, where he has always played well. Novak's sixth Rome Masters title came in 2022 before falling to Holger Rune 12 months ago in the quarter-final.

On the other hand, Nadal will unlikely seek his 11th Rome Masters crown and the first in three years, struggling with injuries and playing only 13 matches since the beginning of 2023. Rafa competed in Madrid and delivered three wins for the first time since the 2022 US Open before falling to Jiri Lehecka. The Spaniard is likely competing in Rome for the last time, 19 years after debuting at Foro Italico.

Rafael Nadal Novak Djokovic Rome Masters