World number one Novak Djokovic overcame a sluggish start to lift his fifth Italian Open title on Monday, defeating Argentine Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 for a record 36th ATP Masters crown.
Playing in his maiden ATP 1000 final, eighth seed Schwartzman raced out of the blocks to convert two break point opportunities for a 3-0 lead as Djokovic’s usually clinical backhand offered up some errors.
An on-and-off drizzle at Foro Italico, which included a smattering of fans, added to Djokovic’s frustration but he still found a way past Schwartzman’s serve to draw level at 3-3.
Djokovic’s relentless baseline hitting came to the fore when he broke Schwartzman in the 12th game to take the opening set, despite committing 18 unforced errors.
Schwartzman, who outplayed defending champion Rafa Nadal in the quarter-finals, snatched another early break in the second set but Djokovic was quick to respond.
The top seed stepped up the intensity to break Schwartzman’s serve twice before serving out the match comfortably to seal victory — clinching it with a drop shot.
“It was a great week, a very challenging week,” Djokovic, who was playing his first event since being defaulted at the U.S. Open for inadvertently hitting a line judge with a ball, said on court. “I found my best tennis when I needed it most.”
“I’m proud that I managed to find the fifth gear when I needed it.”
Djokovic’s win moves him clear on the list of Masters 1000 titles, one ahead of rival Nadal, and sets him up perfectly for an assault on next week’s rescheduled French Open.
“Now we turn to Paris and I couldn’t ask for a better tournament here in Rome,” the 33-year-old Djokovic, the oldest male winner of the Italian Open title, said.
Heading into Roland Garros, Djokovic has won 31 of his 32 matches this season, and will be among the favourites alongside 12-times winner Nadal and U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem.
Top seed Simona Halep gave her French Open preparations a boost when she claimed the Italian Open in Rome on Monday after second seed Karolina Pliskova retired from the final with injury when she was down 6-0 2-1.
Victory gave Halep her first title in Rome and her third consecutive title of the year after wins in Dubai — before the COVID-19 hiatus — and Prague last month.
Pliskova attempted to continue playing after receiving treatment on her lower back and leg between sets but eventually decided to retire, not willing to take any chances before the French Open which begins on Sept. 27.
“I know that’s not the way how Karolina wanted to finish the tournament and the final,” Halep said at the trophy presentation ceremony. “Good luck in the French Open, hopefully we will meet again there in the final.
“Finally, after two finals I could win this title. I love this tournament and I’m really happy that I have this beautiful trophy in my hands now,” she added, having lost the final in 2017 and 2018.
Halep raced into a 5-0 lead in the opening set, breaking the Czech defending champion three times and the Romanian also saved three break points at 0-40 down in the fourth game.
Halep, who even shook off a hard fall in the second game, was at her aggressive and disciplined best while Pliskova looked sluggish with her on-court movement, failing to hit a single winner as she was bagelled in 20 minutes.
The limited number of fans allowed into Foro Italico’s centre court urged Pliskova to make it a contest, applauding the rare points she got on the score board, and it seemed to work as the second set started with the pair breaking each other.
However, Pliskova was clearly struggling with the injury and retired after she was broken for a fifth time to give Halep the trophy.
Halep, who chose to skip the hardcourt swing in the United States to practice on clay, will head to Roland Garros as one of the firm favourites with world number one Ash Barty and U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka both skipping the tournament this year.