Overcoming adversity has been Novak Djokovic’s trademark over the years, and Monday’s Rome final was another example of his ability to find form when he needed it most.
Only a fortnight after his disqualification from the US Open, Djokovic scored a straight-sets win over Diego Schwartzman to lift his 36th Masters title.
The Masters series is the next level below the grand slams, and no one has dominated it like Djokovic. He moved one title ahead of Rafael Nadal at the top of the all-time standings, with Roger Federer standing third on 28. Rome has been such a happy hunting ground that this was his fifth success at the Foro Italico, and it sets him up perfectly for the start of the French Open.
“It was a great week, a very challenging week,” said Djokovic after his 7-5, 6-3 win. “I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the week but I found my best tennis when I needed it most. That makes me very satisfied and proud. I managed to find the fifth gear when it was needed.
“Now we move on to Paris, and I couldn’t ask for a better tournament here.”
Earlier, Simona Halep had taken the women’s title in a final that was sadly diminished by a thigh injury to her opponent Karolina Pliskova. With the score standing at 6-0, 2-1 to Halep, Pliskova decided to abandon the match.
“It’s not the way we want to finish a tournament,” Halep told Pliskova at the presentation ceremony, “but you played great this week. I wish you a fast recovery and good luck at the French Open.”
Halep – who is the world No 2 – will start as the favourite in Paris in the absence of world No 1 Ashleigh Barty, who declined to travel from Australia to Europe to defend the title she won last year.
In the men’s event, Nadal is always the favourite to add to the 12 French Opens he has already won, but slow conditions could work in Djokovic’s favour.