CLAYDAL! Rafael Nadal Claims His Record Breaking 10th Italian Open Crown by Overpowering Novak Djokovic in Finals

Published 05/16/2021, 2:05 PM EDT
Tennis – ATP Masters 1000 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 16, 2021 Spain’s Rafael Nadal reacts during his final match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Two of the sport’s greatest athletes -Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who had memorable battles over the past decade, faced each other for a record 57th time in the Italian Open final.


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Djokovic leads the head-to-head record with 29 wins, while Nadal managed to win 27 of their encounters.

Tennis – ATP Masters 1000 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 16, 2021 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in action during his final match against Spain’s Rafael Nadal REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

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Both the players faced taxing challenges over the past few days in Rome as several young players stood up and gave a tough fight to prevent them from meeting each other in the final.

Yet, here they are, facing each other for the seventh time in the finals of the Italian Open.

Let’s see how the match progressed.

Djokovic and Nadal fought a neck-to-neck battle in the first set

Novak Djokovic, who just played two back-to-back matches yesterday to reach the finals was moving perfectly well in the first few games of the set. In fact, he broke Nadal’s service game and got an initial lead of 2-0.

But, the Spaniard was quick to bounce back and compensated by breaking Djokovic’s immediate service game. The match already witnessed the two players strive hard for baseline dominance. Yet, it was the Serb who got the better of Nadal in long rallies.

However, Nadal made tactical adjustments to his game owing to the Serb’s incredible return game. The Spaniard started using more drop shots and got the desired results.

At 3-3 in the first set, the Serb landed a drop shot from his forehand out of nowhere. But the Spaniard was quick enough to reach the ball and made an astonishing passing shot and also slipped during the process. The fall was a result of the uneven lines present on-court.

The first set was filled with a lot of such intense exchanges between both the stalwarts. But, in the eleventh game, the Serb gave a narrow opening for Nadal to break his game. The Spaniard broke and won his immediate service game to clinch the first set, 7-5.

While Nadal dominated in points won under three shots in the first set, it was Djokovic who got the upper hand in longer rallies. The Serb won 8 of the 11 rallies played over nine shots. It was Djokovic’s defensive approach that costed the set.

Djokovic made a stellar comeback in the second set

The story of the second set started differently with Djokovic breaking the Spaniard’s service in the fourth game. Nadal’s level dropped a bit in the first few games, and the Serb converted it to his advantage.

With Nadal dropping short balls, Djokovic flexed his backhand and hit more winners from that wing. The match was about to get equally poised with the Serb winning the second set.

As the Spaniard made back-to-back errors in the sixth game, Djokovic was able to get his second breakpoint and served for the set. The Serb remained calm after losing the first set and waited for Nadal to lose momentum. The wait paid off as he won the second set, 6-1 in 43 minutes.

Djokovic’s numbers improved from the first set as he won 17 points played under five shots while Nadal managed to win 12. Taking a look at both sets, the Serb was consistent in most departments. It was Nadal who played exceptional tennis towards the end of the first set and dropped his level in the second.

Rafael Nadal bounced back to win the third set and the match

The stage was set for the tennis world to witness a great duel between two of the best players in the world. The duo delivered as each player had opportunities in every game of the third set.

The Serb came to the net a lot frequently now than in the first two sets. But Nadal was too resilient and comfortable from the baseline as he hit a couple of incredible passing shots.

Tennis – ATP Masters 1000 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 14, 2021, Spain’s Rafael Nadal in action during his quarter-final match against Germany’s Alexander Zverev REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Serving at 2-3 in the set, the Serb was pushed beyond the limits by Nadal the latter went ballistic once again and broke for the first time. Now, Nadal was two games away from winning a tenth Italian Open title.


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Novak Djokovic looked down and out as he was serving to stay in the match. With a couple of poor first serves, Nadal had a championship point. But, the Serb made an unexpected second serve down the line to save the match point and won the service game as well.

Serving to win the match at 5-3, Nadal managed to make his first serves after a few hiccups and defeated Novak Djokovic 7-5,1-6,6-3 in 2hours and 49 minutes. The Spaniard closed their head-to-head match record with 28 wins, and is just one short of equaling Djokovic’s 29 match victories.


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Sagar Ashtakoula

212 articles

Sagar Ashtakoula is a tennis writer at EssentiallySports. He has been following the sport since 2007. Having developed an interest in creating content, he mixed his passion for writing with his love for tennis for 2 years at SportsKeeda before joining the tennis team at EssentiallySports.