Yet another “La Decima” for Rafael Nadal on the Red Dirt

Rafael Nadal in action at the ATP Rome Masters
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The 2021 Italian Open final was a stupendous visual treat for the most discerning of tennis enthusiasts. Rafael Nadal, the indisputable greatest of the sport on this surface, thwarted all efforts made by the formidable No.1 seed to clinch the ATP Masters 1000 in Rome for a record-extending 10th–a feat known as “La Decima,” which he has also accomplished at a couple of other clay tournaments on the ATP Tour (Monte Carlo and Barcelona). And at one Major, the French Open.

One of the earliest titles Nadal had won back in the early days of his illustrious career, the Rome Masters brings back fond memories. With this win, he now has a record 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles (tied with Novak Djokovic), in addition to 20 Majors. All in all, he has an incredible 88 titles.

Meeting for the 57th time, Djokovic and Nadal left no stone unturned in their quest for the title. Many would agree that theirs is a rivalry more intense and more celebrated than the older Federer-Nadal one. What is more, theirs is also one that is likely to run longer. On Sunday, Nadal had a very familiar Djokovic on the other side of the net, one who was playing the best tennis of his life.

Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic

Not surprisingly, the Spaniard stood far behind the baseline, a staple of his game in the last few years his fans are no stranger to. At the other end, Djokovic wore the familiar “I am invincible” look. What ensued was a never-ending blitzkrieg of unrelenting rallies laced with immaculate cross-court strokes and the occasional soft-handed drop shot. Nadal was on the top of his signature forehand, unleashing furious forehand strokes that he hardly ever missed. Novak’s service returns had the usual touch of class. As one would expect in a matchup like this, it was only the slightest of errors that seemed to separate the two geniuses.

Title favorite Nadal sprinted for the ball a long way across the court at 3-4 in the opening set, to hand down a winning forehand pass that was too good to be real. He took the first set in style. The scoreboard read 7-5.

Djokovic rose to the occasion in the second as the Spaniard’s level dropped slightly. A streak of games followed, helped by Djokovic’s signature backhand and accurate drop shots. He eased through the second set 6-1.

Nadal fans were a little worried, but not perturbed. The then-nine-time champion knew his way out of a difficult situation. Come decider. Again, the one who made the error would be punished. This time around, it was Djokovic’s turn. He had no answers to the Spaniard’s exquisite forehand passes. He broke serve at 3-2 to move up 4-2. From there, the match took a one-way route. Winning the next 2 games in a row, Rafa outclassed the No.1 to take the final in the deciding set.

The message is loud and clear. Despite nearing the other side of a long career, Rafael Nadal is a force to reckon with. The resurgent Nadal  is well-poised to claim a few more titles and stay in the top ten of the rankings right until he calls it quits.

Main Photo from Getty.