Rafael Nadal dominates Novak Djokovic to win Italian Open title
Spanish world No 2 dropped just one game in the first and third sets to win a record 34th Masters title
Rafael Nadal produced a timely reminder of his clay court prowess on Sunday by defeating Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to win the Italian Open title.
After three successive semi-final defeats since the ATP Tour moved into the European clay court swing, doubts were being raised about Nadal's form heading into the French Open - where he is the 11-time and defending champion.
The Spaniard's form throughout the week in Rome, and in particular his demolition of world No 1 Djokovic in the final, should be enough to diminish those concerns and install him as the overwhelming favourite to win Roland Garros.
Djokovic, winner at the Madrid Open last week, produced an error-strewn performance in his 54th meeting with Nadal, but all credit must go to the world No 2 who was always in control, despite somehow managing to gift the second set to his great rival.
Nadal had four break points across two Djokovic service games in the second set but failed to take any of them, only for Djokovic to pounce on his second opportunity with Nadal serving at 4-5 to snatch the set and level the match.
Before and after that tight second set, though, it was all one-way traffic, with Nadal dropping just a single game en route to victory.
Nadal overtakes Djokovic at the top of the list for Masters wins - the pair were level at 33 each before Sunday's final - and moves to nine titles in Rome.
“I know if I am able to reach my level, I can win, I can lose but normally I’m going to have my chance," Nadal said after closing the gap in his head-to-head record with Djokovic to 26 wins compared to the Serbian's 28.
“I’m very happy for the victory and just enjoying the moment. It’s always special to play against Novak, against Roger [Federer]. These kind of matches are tradition now.
“It’s always special. Novak is having a great season and it’s an important victory for me. But for me, what means a lot is to win again in Rome."
In the women's event, Karolina Pliskova ended Johanna Konta's hopes of landing a first clay court title with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
The Czech world No 7 did not drop a single service game as she secured the third clay title of her career and her first in Rome in one hour 25 minutes.
British No 1 Konta claimed some big scalps on her way to the final, beating grand slam winners Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams as well as Madrid Open champion Kiki Bertens.
However, she struggled to trouble the Czech on serve as Pliskova recorded her sixth win in seven meetings with Konta. The result means Pliskova will be the second seed at the French Open later this month as she will move to No 2 in the world rankings on Monday.
"I was a little bit nervous today, it’s a final so you have to be. Jo played great tennis so she made it quite tough for me," the Czech said.
Asked about her prospects at Roland Garros, she said: “I just hope I can take the tennis I was playing here to Paris and we’ll see.
"I think there will be a chance for me if I play this way but there’s going to be some tough opponents who are playing good tennis on clay."
Updated: May 19, 2019 10:06 PM