Tennis

Nadal breaks 2019 duck by downing Djokovic for ninth Rome crown

A week before the French Open gets under way, Rafael Nadal was impressive as he beat Novak Djokovic in the Internazionali d'Italia final.

Rafael Nadal made a major statement ahead of his French Open defence, thumping world number one Novak Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 in the Internazionali d'Italia final to claim his ninth title in Rome.

The winner of an astonishing 11 men's singles crowns at Roland Garros, which will host the year's second grand slam from next Sunday, Nadal had endured an unusually underwhelming clay-court season prior to facing Djokovic, losing semi-finals in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

Djokovic, a four-time champion in Rome, has won each of the last three slams and dominated Nadal in the Australian Open final in January.

However, the boot was on the other foot on this occasion as the Spaniard registered the first bagel in 54 meetings between the illustrious pair and secured his first trophy of 2019 with a degree of comfort, despite a gutsy fightback from his rival.

Nadal now has 34 Masters 1000 titles to Djokovic's 33, having edged clear once again in their long-running battle for supremacy.

While the former cruised into the final, Djokovic had been forced to come through a series of demanding contests and that appeared to be a factor as he was clinically dismantled in a one-sided opening set.

The top seed appeared sluggish in his movement and had no answer to a series of sensational forehands from the other side of the net, most notably a winner down the line in the fifth game.

Although Djokovic raised his level after suffering the indignity of a bagel, Nadal still dictated play for the most part and looked likely to triumph in straight sets, only to then be surprisingly broken for only the second time in the tournament when he made back-to-back errors serving at 4-5.

Nadal quickly regained control with a break at the start of the decider, prompting a frustrated Djokovic to smash his racquet.

And there was to be no way back for the Serbian, who was guilty of a succession of poor drop shots throughout the match as he suffered a first defeat to a top-10 opponent this year.