Within 11 seasons (2005-2015), Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were the players to beat at the Rome Masters, winning all the titles and playing against each other in four finals. In 2008, Novak stole the crown from Nadal, and the Spaniard was eager to get it back a year later, setting the first Rome Open final against Novak.
Djokovic defeated Stan Wawrinka in the title clash in 2008 but couldn't repeat that against Rafa a year later, as the Spaniard scored a 7-6, 6-2 triumph in two hours and three minutes for the fourth Rome Open crown in five years.
Nadal was the player to beat in early 2009, winning the Australian Open crown and adding Indian Wells, Monte Carlo and Barcelona to his collection ahead of another dominant Foro Italico run. Rafa beat all five opponents in Rome in straight sets to restore the order and claim another Masters 1000 crown at 22.
Nadal lost just 18 games in four encounters against Seppi, Soderling, Verdasco and Gonzalez before the final clash, where he had to beat a much more challenging opponent to add the finishing touch. Nadal was forced to give his best in the opening set, shifting into a higher gear after that to claim the second set more comfortably, although it was again far from easy.
It was already their 17th meeting in the last four years and ninth at the Masters 1000 series, with Nadal scoring his 13th win over the Serb and eighth on clay in as many encounters on the slowest surface. The Spaniard won 14 points more than Novak, but it was another extraordinary battle between the two finest clay courters in the world, who pushed each other to the limits for over two hours and kept the crowd on the edge of their seats all the time.
Nadal served at 71% and had better percentages on both the first and second serve, facing four break points and giving serve away twice.
Rafael Nadal ousted Novak Djokovic in the 2009 Rome Open final in straight sets.
Novak gave his best to stay in touch with his great rival but made too many unforced errors and got broken four times from five chances offered to Rafa to finish empty-handed.
The Spaniard had the edge in the shortest and longest points and forged the main difference in the mid-range exchanges, outplaying Novak with his brutal pace from the baseline, although it has to be said once again that Djokovic did a marvelous job in the opening set that lasted for 74 minutes.
It was a shaky start from Novak, who lost serve in the first game, which is never a good sign, with Rafa holding at 15 in game two with a forehand winner to cement his lead. Both players served well in the next five games, and it was Nadal who created a set point at 5-3, netting a backhand and wasting a huge opportunity to make the opening set almost half an hour shorter!
Novak couldn't create a break point so far, but he had to at 4-5 if he wanted to prolong the set. The Serb played well and converted his second chance when Nadal missed an easy forehand to gain the sudden momentum. That didn't last for long, though, as Nadal broke again in game 11 after Djokovic's loose forehand, as the Serb ruined everything he did right in the previous game.
Nonetheless, Djokovic was there to compete, saving another set point with a superb volley that Rafa barely reached and breaking back thanks to Nadal's terrible forehand to set up a tie break after grueling 65 minutes.
The Spaniard got broken twice while serving for the set, but that couldn't break his spirit, serving great in the tie break and earning a mini-break in the fourth point when Novak's backhand landed long. The Serb sprayed another error on serve in the eighth point, and Rafa clinched it with the third mini-break for 7-2 and one step closer to another title in Rome.
Novak missed a break chance in the second set's opening game and finally started to slow down at 2-3 when Nadal grabbed a break thanks to a costly double fault from the Serb, who was now in a very tough position. A service winner sent the Spaniard 5-2 in front, putting one hand on that beautiful trophy he lost a year ago.
Rafa delivered another break in game eight with a stunning forehand winner to break Novak's resistance and prevail after over two hours of dynamic and powerful tennis.