Rome: Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to win a ninth Italian Open title and a record 34th Masters crown on Sunday.
World number one Djokovic, winner at the Madrid Open last week, produced an error-strewn performance in his 54th meeting with second-ranked Nadal, who claimed the 81st title of his career.
Nadal overtakes Djokovic at the top of the list for Masters wins — the pair were level at 33 each before Sunday's final — in a timely boost ahead of his assault on a 12th French Open crown in a week's time.
After three semi-final defeats in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal has returned to his best form ahead of Roland Garros and lifted his first title of the season.
The 👑 of clay is back in business...
That's 34 #ATPMasters1000 🏆 for Rafa Nadal 👏
— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) May 19, 2019
The Spaniard dominated early with Djokovic losing a set 6-0 for the first time to a player he describes as his "greatest rival". But Nadal missed four break chances in the second set, dropping his first set this week after losing serve at 4-5, to throw the Serb a lifeline.
The fightback was brief as the 31-year-old Djokovic dropped his serve immediately in the third set, smashing his racket in frustration.
Nadal broke his opponent twice more to seal a third win over Djokovic in their five Rome finals, although the latter still holds a 28-26 career edge.
Nadal, seeded second, was playing his fourth straight semi-final, but had not managed to go further on clay this season. The 32-year-old had been stunned by Stefanos Tsitsipas, seeded eighth and 12 years his junior, in the semi-finals at the Madrid Open last weekend.
In the women's singles final, Czech fourth seed Karolina Pliskova swept past Britain's Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4 to win the WTA Italian Open.
Pliskova, the 2017 French Open semi-finalist, clinched her 13th career title, in the final major warm-up tournament on clay before Roland Garros starts on 26 May.
A break in each set was enough for the former world number one to get past Konta, sealing victory on her third match point after 85 minutes on court.
"It was a great week for me and my team. There were a couple of tough matches so I was happy to fight through them. I was a little bit nervous today, but it was my first final in Rome, so that's to be expected," said the 27-year-old, now coached by former Rome champion Conchita Martinez.
She had never gone past the semi-finals in her four previous appearances in Rome. Last year she exited in disgrace after smashing a hole in the umpire's chair in a temper tantrum after losing in the second round.
Pliskova, the highest remaining seed, got an early break in the final and swept 3-0 up in just eight minutes on the red clay of the Foro Italico.
A double fault when serving for the set handed Konta a break point but the British number one squandered the chance with a smash into the net with the entire court open to her.
Konta then hit a weak forehand shot into the tape and the ball bounced wide, allowing Pliskova to wrap up the first set in 36 minutes.
Pliskova broke in the seventh game of the second set, despite Konta saving two break points, with the Czech world number seven powering through for the biggest title of her career since Cincinnati in 2016. She becomes the first Czech woman to win the Rome tournament since Regina Marsikova in 1978.
For Konta, who has won three WTA titles, it was her second straight defeat in a final on clay after the Morocco Open earlier this month.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) May 19, 2019
"It's always tough playing Karolina. There's rarely really a rhythm to the match. She plays with big shots, quite flat, and big serves. It can feel sometimes you're fighting an uphill battle. That was the case today. She didn't really have a letdown throughout the match. She played very consistently. I found it quite hard to get a footing into the match, which is credit to her," said former world number four Konta, who has slipped to 42nd.
The 28-year-old Konta, the first British woman in the Rome final since Virginia Wade in 1971, will now be seeded at the French Open later this month.
"I'm definitely pleased with this week. This is my second final in three weeks. That's still quite an achievement. I'm looking forward to Paris," said Konta.
Top seeds Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova pulled out injured during the Rome event, while Roland Garros champion Simona Halep crashed out in her opening match in Italy.
Four-time Rome winner Serena Williams also withdrew before the second round as her return after a two-month layoff was cut short when her knee injury flared up.
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Updated Date: May 19, 2019 22:52:26 IST