World no. 2 Rafael Nadal will not travel to the USA for Cincinnati and the US Open that should occur in New York later this month. The Spaniard has decided to skip the second Major of the season, opting not to defend the title and continue his preparations on clay.
Rafa was hoping for a comeback in front of the home fans in Madrid in September, having to chose some other tournament after the cancelation of the Masters 1000 event in the Spanish capital. The natural choice should be Rome, the final test ahead of Roland Garros, but Nadal is not sure about traveling to Italy, waiting for more news in the upcoming weeks.
Nadal had won the 85th ATP title in Acapulco, just before the coronavirus outbreak that forced him to fly back home to Mallorca and stay there ever since. Rafa is practicing on clay at his Academy, working on his game ahead of Roland Garros where he will chase Roger Federer's record of 20 Major titles.
Nadal has played in Rome for the last 15 years, winning nine titles and 61 out of 67 matches. After the semi-final losses in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid last year, Nadal went to Rome with a lot of pressure, chasing the first clay title since Roland Garros 2018.
In the final, the Spaniard scored a massive triumph over Novak Djokovic, beating the Serb 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 in the clash of the most dominant competitors in the Italian capital in the Open era. Rafa defended the title won in 2018, becoming the first player with 34 Masters 1000 titles.
It was the last test for both ahead of Roland Garros where they would be the top favorites, with Nadal beating Djokovic for the 26th time and the first in 12 months, claiming the first title since Canada 2018 and getting back on track on the beloved surface.
Competing in the 50th Masters 1000 final, Rafa dominated in sets one and three to cross the finish line first, with Novak giving his best to overcome a terrible start and a bagel.
Since 2005, Rafa has never missed the Masters 1000 event in Rome.
In the end, the Spaniard played against only two break chances, getting broken once and creating 17 opportunities on the return, converting six to control the scoreboard and claim the 81st ATP title, lifting at least one for the last 16 years!
At the age of 32, Nadal became the oldest Rome champion, earning his 20th triumph over world no. 1 player in his outstanding career. They had a similar number of winners and Novak made many more errors, with his backhand letting him down completely, alongside poor decisions and drop shots.
Rafa was more efficient in the mid-range and most extended rallies, and that was enough to propel him over the finish line and deliver much-needed title after a tough period due to injuries. Both players served above 70% in the opening set, although no one could have noticed that, with Nadal as the only player on the court.
The Spaniard lost three points behind the initial shot, rattling off one good hold after another and keeping the pressure on Novak, who wasn't prepared to match those numbers. Dropping 60% of the points in his games, Djokovic suffered three breaks from nine chances offered to Rafa for the first bagel in their matches ever!
After hitting 12 winners and only four unforced errors, Nadal ruled the court and had a clear advantage in the shortest and most extended rallies to race over the finish line and make the best possible start. The Serb lost serve in the first game of the match after a loose forehand, allowing Rafa to move 3-0 up with a forehand down the line winner, looking better and better.
Facing five break points in game five, Djokovic gave serve away after a backhand down the line bullet from Nadal, who sealed the opener with a service winner in game six for a 6-0 after 38 minutes. Following a terrible performance in the opener, Novak raised the level in set number two, producing a couple of much-needed easy holds and creating a break point in game four that Rafa fended off with a powerful forehand down the line winner.
Standing on the verge of defeat, Djokovic fought off three break points in game seven, staying on the positive side of the scoreboard and repelling another one at 4-4 to boost his chances. Serving to stay in the set, Nadal wasted a game point and sent a forehand long to hand the break and set to Novak, who roared towards his team, mighty relieved after this outcome.
They both had more winners than unforced errors and the Serb was the one who prevailed in the crucial moments and forced a decider. Leaving the last set behind him instantly, the Spaniard broke in the first game of the final set to restore the order, missing another break chance at 1-1 and forging a 4-1 lead after a backhand error from Novak in game five.
A loose forehand from Djokovic propelled the eight-time champion 5-1 in front, and Nadal sealed the deal with another break in game seven for the first win over Novak in a year.