WATCH: Sumptuous Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal rally at Italian Open
It remains to be seen if Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will compete at the 2023 Italian Open as they are both struggling with injury, but the pair have delivered plenty of pulsating points in Rome over the years and the 2018 tournament was one case in point.
Five years ago, Nadal was a man on a mission on clay as he successfully defended his Monte Carlo Masters title at the start of the 2018 red dirt season – winning an 11th title in the Principality without dropping a set – and he followed it up with “Undecima” at the Barcelona Open as well.
His unbeaten run was then ended in the Madrid Open quarter-final by Dominic Thiem, but he was soon starting another streak at Foro Italico.
The then 32-year-old defeated Damir Dzumhur, Denis Shapovalov and Fabio Fognini to reach the semi-final.
On the other side of the net was Djokovic, a man who was struggling to regain his best form after undergoing surgery on his troublesome elbow in January.
After early exits in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, Djokovic finally started to show glimpses of his best form in Rome as he beat Nikoloz Basilashvili, Albert Ramos Vinolas and Kei Nishikori en route to the last four.
It was all set up for a brilliant seventh match at the Italian Open with Nadal as they had shared the previous six wins.
Nadal dominated the early exchanges as he was 4-2 up and was serving to make it 5-2. After winning the opening point, Djokovic produced some exquisite tennis.
Djokovic was on the front foot during the early exchanges of the rally as he produced deep return that had Nadal scrambling and he then played a brilliant drop shot.
Nadal, of course, chased it down and replied with an equally impressive volley to the right of his opponent, but Djokovic went into fifth gear and managed to play a shot over his shoulder as the ball had looked like it had already passed him. His reply went deep and this time Nadal went into fifth gear as he somehow managed to return the ball.
However, the ball just cleared the net and Djokovic was waiting and ended the rally with the simplest of shots.
The spectators were all on their feet shouting “Nole, Nole, Nole” and Djokovic soaked it all in.
Despite going 0-30 down, Nadal still managed to hold serve and looked like he was coasting to a one-set lead. However, Djokovic eventually broke back at 5-4 and it went to a tie-breaker, which Nadal edged.
The Spaniard then dominated the second set with breaks in games three and six to secure a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 win in just under two hours and he then defeated Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 on the Sunday to win a record-extending eighth Italian Open title with the win also helping him to return to No 1 in the ATP Rankings.
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