Rafael Nadal overcomes Alexander Zverev to win Rome title: King of Clay to regain World No. 1 ranking on Monday

Leye Aduloju in ATP 20 May 2018
  • Rafael Nadal came back from a break down in the final set to beat Alexander Zverev and claim an eighth Rome title
  • Nadal to return to No. 1 in the world on Monday
  • Watch and bet on tennis live at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo-restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify) 
Rafael Nadal. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal survived a brilliant fightback from Alexander Zverev to claim an eight title at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia following a 6-1 1-6 6-3 victory. 

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Zverev had played superbly to recover from an opening set blowout to lead by a break in the final set, but just as the German closed in on a magnificent win, the rain descended on the Foro Italico, forcing play to be suspended for nearly an hour.

Nadal came out all guns blazing after the delay, winning four straight games to claim the Rome title for the first time since 2013. Victory for Spaniard also guarantees a return to No. 1 in the world when the rankings are updated on Monday. 

"It has been an amazing week," said Nadal. "Such an important week to have this trophy with me again after losing in the quarter-finals in Madrid. It was unforgettable and emotional for me. It's amazing to win eight titles in Rome. It's a difficult event and to have the chance to win again here means a lot. This is the moment to enjoy winning here again."

Zverev had arrived the Rome final on a 13-match winning streak, brimming with confidence after winning consecutive titles in Munich and Madrid, but he looked completely out of his depth in the opening set against Nadal. He didn't do much wrong, he was simply bullied into submission by a man at the peak of his powers. 

Nadal had dropped his serve in the opening game of the match, but he was unplayable for the rest of the first set, winning six games in a row as he raced through the opener in 33 minutes. 

Nadal sniffed an early break in the opening game of the second set when he got to 30-30 on Zverev's serve, but the German fended off the danger, outfoxing Nadal with a cute drop shot winner, and then a high backhand volley to stop the run of six straight games for Nadal. 

That seemed to inject a little bit more belief into the German, and as Nadal's level dipped, Zverev raised his game significantly, and began to boss the Spaniard from the back of the court. The 21-year-old broke for 2-0 after Nadal failed to clear the net on an attempted backhand pass, and he swept to a 3-0 lead on the back of more unforced errors from Nadal. 

Attacking the Nadal forehand with his brilliant crosscourt backhand, Zverev had Nadal in all sorts of trouble. The Spaniard did well to save two more break points at 15-40 in the fourth game, but Zverev would not be denied, breaking again for the 4-0 lead off a vicious backhand down the line.

Nadal got on the board a couple of games later to avoid the bagel, but Zverev produced a nerveless service game to close out a sensational set of tennis, punctuated with another raking backhand down the line. 

The relentless German continued to apply pressure at the start of the final set- converting a third break point in the opening game of the decider to take control of the match. Now he had Nadal properly on the ropes. 

Rafael Nadal. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Zverev, who had served superbly all through the clay-court season, was once again looking impenetrable on serve, with a couple of comfortable holds helping him to a 3-1 lead, but then the rain, which had threatened all day, got heavier. 

First there was a short delay, after which Nadal held to get to 2-3, before a lengthy stoppage, with the players leaving the court and the covers coming on.

When play resumed, Nadal came out with renewed intensity, wrestling the break back after back-to-back forehand errors from Zverev from deuce. The King of Clay had obviously made a decision to get more aggressive, and it yielded dividends again in Zverev's next service game. A blistering backhand down the line set up an easy overhead for another break point, and another foray into the next drew an error from Zverev, whose lob drifted over the baseline to hand Nadal a second straight break and the chance to serve out the match. 

The Spaniard wasn't going to pass up that opportunity, as he completed a remarkable turnaround after the rain delay to win an eighth Rome title. 

"When it happened, the rain delay, I didn't feel in that moment that it would help me," said Nadal. "That's my feeling. It's true that, if we analyse it now, of course, we can say that the rain delay helped me. But really, in my opinion, what helped me is that I came back with a clear idea in terms of tactical issues and in terms of decisions that I took after that break".  
"And, of course, a little bit of luck that I had the break back immediately. That was a big help. And I think I played with the right determination and strategy later."

Nadal moved up to a record 32 Masters 1000 titles, and a 78th career title takes him above John McEnroe into fourth place in the Open Era list of titlists. Next up for the Spaniard is Roland Garros, where he will attempt to claim an eleventh title.


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Rafael Nadal overcomes Alexander Zverev to win Rome title: King of Clay to regain World No. 1 ranking on Monday

Rafael Nadal recovered from a break down in the final set to beat Alexander Zverev 6-1 1-6 6-3 and claim the Rome Masters title.

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