Djokovic rallies past Nadal for Italian Masters crown

The Sports NetworkMay 18, 2014 

Rome, Italy ( - Novak Djokovic rallied past Rafael Nadal to capture the title at the Italian Masters for the third time.

Djokovic claimed a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph in Sunday's final, denying Nadal his eighth Rome championship.

The two have combined for the last 10 titles at this French Open tune-up, as Djokovic previously won in 2008 and 2011. Nadal won the other seven times since his first title in 2005, including last year when he beat fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.

This was the fourth meeting between the duo in the Rome final. Nadal won in 2009 and 2012, while Djokovic previously emerged victorious in 2011 before this year's thrilling battle.

Djokovic earned his third title of 2014, having previously won in Indian Wells and Miami. He was playing for the first time since the recurrence of a wrist injury he suffered in a semifinal loss to Roger Federer in Monte Carlo last month.

"It's been a great week considering where I've been a few weeks ago with the wrist injury," said Djokovic. "Luckily for me, I played with no pain and increased the level of tennis as the week went on."

Nadal opened a 4-1 lead early on Sunday with a pair of breaks, but Djokovic got one back before the Spaniard finally closed out the first set. Djokovic turned it around by winning the first three games of the second set with a pair of breaks, and Nadal managed to get one back to make it 3-2, but a double-fault on break point in the next game allowed the Serb to pull away and force a decisive third set.

After Djokovic broke serve to start the third, Nadal broke back to make it 3-3. Djokovic, though, quickly again turned the tide by winning the first three points of Nadal's next service game.

Nadal managed to save one break point, but drilled a forehand long on the next and never threatened again. Djokovic held at love for a 5-3 lead and earned a pair of championship points in the next game.

The Serb sent a return into the net on his first chance, but Nadal lifted a backhand long on the next point to end the match.

Djokovic improved to 19-22 all-time against Nadal, including four straight wins. He also beat Nadal for only the fourth time in 17 tries on the Spaniard's favored clay surface.

"Winning against Rafa in the final of a big tournament on clay, his preferred surface, is definitely a confidence booster," said Djokovic. "Experience helped me stay calm and play the right shots at the right time."

The win gave Djokovic his 44th career title, tying him with Thomas Muster for 13th on the all-time list. Nadal was trying for his 64th crown, which would have drawn him even with Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras for fifth. He also remained two clay-court titles shy of Guillermo Vilas' all-time mark of 46.

Both will next play at the French Open, which begins next Sunday in Paris.

"I was able to play in another final here," said Nadal. "I was able to compete well against one of the best players of the moment. I arrive to Roland Garros now more encouraged than what I did a few weeks ago."

Nadal fell to 3-3 in finals this year. He was coming off a win in Madrid and also won in Doha and Rio de Janeiro, while also losing in the Australian Open final against Stanislas Wawrinka and falling to Djokovic in Miami.

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