Rafael Nadal came out on top in a matchup of this year’s top two clay-court players, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 Sunday to win a record-extending eighth Italian Open title.
Nadal recovered from an early break in the third set after a 50-minute rain delay.
“My first victory here in 2005 is one of my greatest memories,” Nadal said during the trophy presentation. “To have this cup with me so many years later is really specialissimo.”
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 taking Munich and Madrid.
Nadal improved to 5-0 in his career against Zverev and gained an extra measure of confidence entering the French Open, which starts next Sunday.
After two lopsided sets in the men’s final, it began to rain at the start of the third and both players grew upset when fans got up from their seats during and between points.
After firstly a brief delay, the tarps were brought out during a 50-minute stop with Zverev about to serve at 3-2.
Once play resumed, Nadal won four straight games while Zverev, who was on a 13-match winning streak, appeared fatigued.
The Spaniard even showed off his shot-making skills with an over-the-shoulder put away with his back to the net, earning long applause from crowd.
“Congratulations Rafa. Obviously you’re an amazing champion and you proved it again tonight,” Zverev said. “You’re the greatest clay-court player of all time.”
Nadal, who hadn’t won the Italian Open since 2013, picked up a winner’s check of 935,000 euros (nearly $1 million).