World No 1 Novak Djokovic capped a historic week on Sunday at the Italian Open, where he overcame Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-0, 7-6(5) to capture a record-extending 38th ATP Masters 1000 crown.
The Serbian became the fifth man in the Open Era to earn 1,000 match wins when he defeated Casper Ruud in the semi-finals and he backed that up with a hard-fought display against Tsitsipas to win his first title of the season after one hour and 37 minutes.
In front of a packed crowd on centre court, Djokovic outmanoeuvred the Greek in the first set, before he showcased his winning mentality in the second set, rallying from 2-5 to become the oldest Rome champion at 34 years, 11 months and 23 days.
“I pleasantly surprised myself, I can say. I had a clear game plan and I knew what to expect, so I knew what I had to do, but I did play a perfect first set,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.
“After that it was a little tighter. At this level, one or two points can turn a match and he was then back in the game at 4-1 up. The match could easily have gone to a third set but I managed to find the right shots at the right time to come back into the match. The tie-break I was maybe an inch better, but it was a tight, tight tie-break for both of us,” he added.
Djokovic was appearing in his fourth straight final at the clay-court event and has now lifted the trophy in the Italian capital six times, with his first triumph coming in 2008.
The top seed, who will spend a record-extending 370th week at No 1 in the ATP Rankings from Monday, has defeated Tsitsipas in consecutive years in Rome, having overcome the fourth seed in the quarter-finals in 2021. Djokovic now leads the Greek 7-2 in their ATP Head2Head series and holds a 5-0 record against the 23-year-old on clay.
Djokovic reached the semi-finals in Madrid last week and has built further momentum in Rome. He did not drop a set en route to the final, earning wins over Aslan Karatsev, Stan Wawrinka, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Casper Ruud.
In a dominant first set, Djokovic flew out of the blocks, quickly finding his range off the ground to break Tsitsipas immediately. The Serbian was strong on serve, winning 92 per cent (12/13) of points behind his first delivery and he targeted the Greek’s backhand effectively to ruthlessly move ahead.
However, Tsitsipas quickly recomposed himself at the start of the second set, striking the ball with greater depth and power to lead 4-1. From 5-2 up, it seemed that the Greek had the set in the bag, but Djokovic hung in, showcased great agility and clawed his way back to 5-5, letting out a roar in the process. The World No. 1 was then more consistent in the tie-break to triumph for his 87th tour-level title.
(INPUTS FROM IANS)