A rain delay derailed Alexander Zverev's title charge in the Italian Open, as Rafael Nadal roared back to take the title for the eighth time with a 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 win. Both men have enjoyed strong clay court seasons.
After struggling in the first set Zverev, who won this title last year and claimed the Madrid Open earlier this month, put on a scintillating display in the second to put the Spanish "King of Clay" in real trouble.
The German, 21, was a break up in the third set when the heavens opened, leading to a 50 minute delay. With the benefit of his vast experience, Nadal used the time to regroup and broke back immediately before wrapping up his 78th ATP title and his 56th on clay.
“You’re the greatest clay court player of all time and I think everybody saw that today,” Zverev told Nadal after the match.
The Spaniard responded by saying he had a special affinity with the event in Rome.
“My first victory here in 2005 was one of the most beautiful victories of my career,” he told the crowd. “To have this trophy again with me after so many years is really very special.”
The victory means Nadal will reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Roger Federer on Monday. Federer is sitting out the clay season to prepare for Wimbledon.
Nadal and Zverev had each won two titles on clay this season entering the final, with Nadal lifting trophies in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and Zverev winning in Munich and Madrid. Both will be in confident mood ahead of next week's French Open.
Earlier on Sunday, Elena Svitolina succeeded where Zverev failed and retained her Italian Open title with a convincing 6-0, 6-4 win over world No. 1 Simona Halep in the women's draw.
"It's amazing that I could come and defend my title here," Svitolina said. "It's really something very, very special for me."
Halep looked dismayed by her performance: "I hope that next year, I am in the final again and I hope that will be the lucky one," she said.
The Romanian called for the physiotherapist and opted for a medical timeout after appearing to suffer from a back injury. "I was a little bit too stiff with my body and I couldn't stay in the rallies," Halep said. "The muscles were stiff. I couldn't run."
mp (DPA, Reuters)