Serbia’s Novak Djokovic fought back to stun Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 and take the Spaniard’s Rome Masters title, as world No. 1 Serena Williams defended her crown in the Italian capital with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Sara Errani of Italy on Sunday.
Errani had been looking to become the first Italian winner of the women’s event in 29 years, but with six previous defeats to her US rival, her bid was always going to be difficult and was made more so by an injury she suffered in the first set.
Despite plenty of support from a partisan crowd on the Foro Italico’s Central Court, Errani was overwhelmed by the power of the 32-year-old Williams, who warmed up for the French Open by cruising to her second straight Rome Masters.
Williams broke Errani in the second game of the first set and although the 10th seed came back to break in the seventh, she failed to hold serve in the next, allowing the American to serve out the set.
Errani appeared to have injured her leg when she failed to go for a Williams return that allowed the defending French Open champion to break for a 5-3 lead.
Williams continued her domination in a completely one-sided second set to claim a deserved straight-sets win in 1 hour, 12 minutes. The loss was too much for Errani and she broke down in tears.
In the men’s side, world No. 2 Djokovic claimed his third title on Rome’s red clay, having won in 2008 and 2011, with the latter also a victory over Nadal.
Sunday’s win was also the Serb’s 19th career Masters title and his 19th win against Nadal in 41 meetings.
The Spaniard had been looking to stretch his record of seven titles in the Italian capital, but despite a dominant first-set display, the world No. 1 allowed unforced errors to creep into his game as Djokovic launched a valiant rally to put himself in pole position to win a first title at the forthcoming French Open.
Nadal said that three tough matches earlier in the week had left him running on empty for the final, but conceded that Djokovic was just unbeatable that day.
“He’s one of the best in the world, he’s playing great,” said the Spaniard, who has now lost three matches in a same clay-court season for the first time since 2004. “I played well for moments, I had my chances for moments, but I could have done with a little more energy at times. My legs didn’t answer me after a tough week.”
Nadal came into Sunday’s final expected to claim an eighth title, having won in Rome every year since 2005 except in 2008 and 2011.
It certainly seemed it would be Nadal’s day when he broke the Serb twice on his way to a quick 4-1 lead in the opening set, which he went on to win 6-4 as Djokovic made a series of unforced errors.
However, Djokovic pulled his game together early in the second set, breaking Nadal’s serve as early as the second game. Although Nadal defiantly broke back to 3-2, Djokovic went on to level the contest by taking the second set 6-3.
Djokovic had hit eight forehand and four backhand winners to Nadal’s one in the second set, and the Serb carried the momentum into the deciding set, breaking the Spaniard’s early for a 2-0 lead.
Nadal pumped his fists when he saved serve in a tightly contested fifth game and was given more hope when he broke to 3-3 in the next, but the 27-year-old crucially hit a forehand return long in the next game to hand Djokovic the break and a 4-3 lead.