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Back on top: Nadal beats Djokovic for 9th Italian Open title

Updated: 2019-05-20 09:44
Spain's Rafael Nadal poses with the trophy as he celebrates winning the final against Serbia's Novak Djokovic in Rome, Italy on May 19, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

ROME — Rafael Nadal is right back where he wants to be.

After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Nadal dominated for stretches against his longtime rival, Novak Djokovic, in a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win Sunday for a record-extending ninth Italian Open title.

"You were asking for titles. Finally I have a title," Nadal told reporters. "Here we are. Important title, important moment."

It marked the first time in an Open Era-record 54 meetings, and in their 142nd set against each other, that Nadal won a set against Djokovic without conceding a game — otherwise known as a bagel.

In all, Nadal had a career-high four bagel sets in this tournament.

"I played a great first set in all aspects. No mistakes. Playing so aggressive, changing directions," Nadal said. "It's not usual and probably will not happen again."

The timing for Nadal's return to form could not have been more opportune, as he will seek a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.

"Winning a title is important but for me the most important thing is (to) feel myself competitive, feel myself healthy," Nadal said. "Then with the feeling that I am improving. I know if I'm able to reach my level you can win, you can lose, but normally I'm going to have my chances — especially on this surface.

"Now is the moment to keep going," Nadal added.

In the women's final, Karolina Pliskova captured the biggest clay-court trophy of her career by beating Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4.

Top-ranked Djokovic, meanwhile, appeared exhausted after spending more than 5 ? hours on court against Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman the previous two days.

Djokovic was also coming off the Madrid Open title last week.

"I don't want to talk about fatigue or things like that," Djokovic told the crowd during the post-match ceremony. "Rafa was simply too strong today."

Speaking to reporters later, Djokovic said, "I was just running out of fuel a little bit today. Just kind of missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side."

The Foro Italico crowd continually tried to encourage Djokovic with chants of "Vai Nole!" — Go Nole! — but the top-ranked Serb struggled with his overhead and drop shots.

Midway through the second set, Nadal chased down a lob with an over-the-shoulder shot and Djokovic's ensuing overhead landed in the net to conclude a long point.

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