Just nine days after he was defeated by Dominic Thiem in the ATP Madrid Open quarter-finals at the Caja Magica in Madrid, Rafael Nadal has beaten Alexander Zverev to claim the Italian Open.
The Spaniard survived a stunning fightback from Zverev to win a record eighth Rome title.
🏆 🏆 🏆 🏆 🏆 🏆 🏆 🏆
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) May 20, 2018
Nadal cruised to the first set before defending champion Zverev won nine of the next 11 games to take the second set 6-1 and lead 3-1 in the decider.
But the Spaniard turned the match around following a lengthy rain delay and closed out a 6-1 1-6 6-3 victory.
Rafael Nadal comes back from 1-3 in the 3rd (rain stopped play for 50 minutes at 2-3*) and beats Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 to win Rome for the 8th time.
Rafa is BACK to NUMBER ONE.[getty] pic.twitter.com/FKCmFJe5zu
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) May 20, 2018
The victory will see Nadal regain the world number one ranking before the French Open which starts next Sunday.
Roger Federer briefly held top spot on the rankings when Nadal lost to Thiem at the Madrid Masters last week – his only defeat on clay this season.
Nadal has now won three clay-court titles from four tournaments in the lead-up to his bid for an 11th Roland Garros title in Paris.
NADAL HAD TO BE AT HIS BEST TO SECURE VICTORY OVER IN-FORM ZVEREV
The ‘King of Clay’ cruised to the first set in just 32 minutes and had looked on course for a routine victory against in-form Zverev, who had won 14 matches in a row and 30 matches in total this season – more than any other player.
But the 31-year-old made a number of uncharacteristic errors in the second set while world number three Zverev raised his game to level at 1-1.
The German, 21, broke Nadal’s serve in the opening game of the deciding set and maintained that break to lead 3-1 going into an 11-minute rain delay.
Nadal won the game after the players returned only for play to be halted by a second, longer rain delay, after which he won four games in a row to clinch the match.
The win is Nadal’s 78th ATP Tour title and also extends his impressive record in Rome where he has won the title more than any other player.
Zverev – the youngest player in the ATP top 20 – was just three games away from a first win over Nadal when rain forced the players off court.
Nadal barely put a foot wrong on the resumption, winning five games in a row to make sure he will be the world number one as well as the top seed at Roland Garros.
The 👑 "King of Clay" conquers Rome one more time and regains the world number 1 spot! 🎉 @RafaelNadal beats Alexander Zverev 6-1 1-6 6-3 and wins for the 8th time the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 🏆! It's his 56th trophy on clay and his 78th #ATP title: legendary! #ibi18 #tennis pic.twitter.com/LCz3nFS4nL
— Internazionali Bnl (@InteBNLdItalia) May 20, 2018
Nadal and Zverev will be the top two seeds at Roland Garros, and may well meet in the final in Paris.
First, though, Zverev must survive the first four rounds, something he is yet to achieve at any Grand Slam.
ZVEREV CONGRATULATES ‘GREATEST CLAY-COURT PLAYER IN TENNIS HISTORY’
“First of all I want to congratulate Rafa,” he tells the Italian Open crowd.
“You’re an amazing champion and you proved that tonight.
“You’re the greatest clay-court player of all time, and everybody saw that today.
“Well done to the team, to the coaches, physios and uncle Toni, who played the biggest role in your career.
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