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Nadal earns win in Djokovic rivalry, Rome title

ROME — Rafael Nadal beat a tired Novak Djokovic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 on Sunday for a record-extending 10th Italian Open title.

The Spaniard recovered from a potentially dangerous fall after tripping over a raised line to take the latest installment of the most-played rivalry in modern men’s tennis.

“To have this trophy in my hands for the 10th time is something hard to believe,” Nadal said, recalling how he won his first title at the Foro Italico in 2005 as an 18-year-old, when he beat Guillermo Coria in a match lasting more than five hours.

“Now, 16 years later, to play in the final again is incredible,” Nadal said in Italian during the trophy presentation. “It’s difficult to describe. Without a doubt, this is one of the most important places in my career.”

The title reestablished Nadal as the overwhelming favorite for the French Open, where he will be aiming for an even harder-to-believe 14th title starting in two weeks.

Nadal beat Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s Roland Garros final.

The top-ranked Djokovic spent nearly five hours on court Saturday, when he had to rally for a rain-delayed quarterfinal victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas before winning another three-setter over local favorite Lorenzo Sonego in the semifinals. Nadal played only once Saturday, beating Reilly Opelka in 1½ hours.

In the women’s final, reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek routed Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0.

It was the 57th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic, which is the most matches between two men in the Open era. It was their ninth meeting in Rome, where they have played more than anywhere else.

Djokovic now holds a slim edge in the all-time series, 29-28, while Nadal holds a 6-3 advantage in Rome overall and 4-2 in Rome finals.

The 10,500-seat Campo Centrale stadium was only one-quarter full due to the coronavirus pandemic. But those lucky few in attendance on an overcast day at the Foro Italico made themselves heard, shouting Djokovic’s nickname, “Nole, Nole,” on the big points or “C’mon Rafa.”

For the second time this week, Nadal tripped over a line that appeared slightly raised on the center court of the Foro Italico. The incident, which resulted in a bloody scrape near his left knee, made Nadal livid.

At 3-3 in the first set, Nadal chased down a short ball from Djokovic and whipped a crosscourt passing shot for a winner. His momentum made him slide into the doubles alley, and his left foot tripped over the outside line, causing him to roll over onto the clay.

Nadal got up immediately, jabbed his arm into the air angrily and had a word with the chair umpire, who called workers over to hammer the line farther into the clay.

Nadal had a similar fall in his quarterfinal victory over Alexander Zverev.

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