May 20, 2019
Rafael Nadal is used to showing impeccable timing.
And he came up with his best match of the year and his first title, just before Roland Garros.
That must surely make him favourite for the French Open. Even his illustrious opponent in the Italian Open final says so.
A ninth title in Rome and his 34th Masters 1000 title, a record. But the scoreline provided the most striking statistic of all.
To beat the great Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 you need to show incredible power and precision.
Neither of these great rivals had ever produced a bagel before in 53 previously hard-fought matches.
But almost every shot Nadal hit seemed to go exactly where he wanted, as Djokovic scrambled left and right before suffering the killer blow.
It was all too much for Novak when he was broken early in the third.
Perhaps he could already tell that the final set would go much like the opener, as he slowly ran out of energy.
The Serb still had the fire in his belly to vent his frustration and smash his racquet into the clay.
It didn’t alter the inevitable course of the decider.
And you suddenly wondered why this was Nadal’s first title of the year, when he looked so imperious in Rome.
‘You were asking for titles, finally I have a title,’ Rafa said, before reflecting on that incredible first set.
‘No mistakes, playing so aggressive, changing directions. These kinds of days happen but it’s not usual and probably will not happen again.’
Not if Djokovic can help it. But he was at a disadvantage, having played more than two hours more on court during his gruelling passage to the final.
Novak admitted:’I ran out of fuel a little bit today. I missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side.
‘The third set wasn’t much different to the first and Nadal is number one favourite for Roland Garros. Then the rest.’
True. But maybe not quite that simple. Djokovic will have time to rest and rely on his superior overall fitness for a Grand Slam fortnight.
Rafa may worry about how well his body might hold up in the five-set format – not that many players are capable of pushing him very far on his favourite surface.
Title number twelve at Roland Garros beckons – but the likes of Roger Federer and Djokovic will push him all the way.