Rafa Nadal: Back to the helm in Rome
The King of Clay Rafael Nadal claimed his eighth Internazionali BNL d’Italia (popularly known as Rome Masters) at Rome by defeating World No. 3 German Alexander Zverev in the intriguing final match in three sets 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
The victory on Sunday helped the Spanish Superstar reclaim his World No. 1 ranking which he had lost to Swiss Master Roger Federer last week when the former faced surprise exit at the hands of Austrian Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals of Mutua Madrid Open in Spain.
Leaving behind the disappointing QF exit in the Madrid Masters, Nadal started the Rome Masters with ruthless form winning his Round 32 and Round 16 matches quite easily in straight sets.
But there was a stiff challenge awaiting in the QFs in the form of home favorite Fabio Fognini. The Spaniard faced a stern test from the Italian who overcame the former's 4-1 lead to claim the first set. But the joy of Fognini was shortlived as Rafa came back in ruthless fashion to claim the next two sets 6-1, 6-2, much to the disappointment of the partisan crowd.
Renewing the rivalry against Djoko
In the semi-finals, the Spaniard got a chance to renew his rivalry against the 12-time Grand Slam winning Serbian Novak Djokovic who was leading their head-to-head duel 26-24 before the match.
Djokovic posed a threat in the first set taking it to tie-breaker where Rafa was successful in sailing through 7-4. But the man in form was too hot to handle for the struggling Serb as Nadal claimed the second set and his 25th victory against one of his toughest opponents.
Last year's champion Alexander Zverev, who is being hailed as the Prince on Clay, had entered the finals to defend his Rome Masters high on confidence, after winning his third masters in Madrid.
A red-hot Rafa seized the early momentum claiming the first set easily at 6-1. But Zverev got into groove in the second one matching the Spaniard shot after shot winning five consecutive games to claim the second set with the same scoreline.
On a cloudy evening, Zverev continued his surge, breaking Rafa early in the third set. When the German was about to serve with the scoreline at 3-2, the skies opened up and play was halted.
The break came as a blessing in disguise for the King of Clay. When play resumed, Rafa took complete control of the set, giving no chance whatsoever to his younger opponent. He went on to claim the set 6-3.
By lifting his eighth Rome Masters, Nadal has extended the lead in winning ATP 1000 Masters titles to 32, two ahead of his rival Djokovic. This victory took his overall tally of open era titles to 78, one ahead of John McEnroe's 77. In 2018, he enjoys an unparalleled 19-1 win-loss record of matches on his favorite surface clay.
Wearing a jersey that could almost pass off as camouflage, the master of clay repeated the performance of 2017 this year as well. There is no doubt, now the Spaniard will have his eyes firmly on claiming his La Undecima at his favorite hunting ground Rolland Garros. Can anyone stop the Rafa juggernaut?