Fifteen days after he was defaulted from the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic had plenty to celebrate on Monday.
Djokovic beat Diego Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3 to win his fifth Italian Open title in 10 tries; he passed childhood idol Pete Sampras for the second-most weeks at No. 1 with 287 — trailing only Roger Federer’s 310 weeks in the top spot — and he re-asserted his dominance before the French Open starts in six days.
“I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most, in the decisive moments today, yesterday, practically every match,” Djokovic said. “That makes me very satisfied and I’m proud that I managed to find that fifth gear when it was most needed.”
Djokovic improved to 31-1 this year, with his only loss against Pablo Carreno Busta in the fourth round of the U.S. Open. That, of course, was when Djokovic unintentionally hit a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger, resulting in him being thrown out.
Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, by virtue of Djokovic’s victory on Monday, has climbed to a career-high 10th in the ATP rankings after dropping a three-set match to Schwartzman in Sunday’s semifinals.
During the trophy ceremony, Djokovic thanked his coaches and staff.
“In good and bad times you are here for me guys,” he said. “Thank you very much.”
WATCH | Novak Djokovic captures 5th Italian Open title in 10 attempts:
Against Schwartzman, who was playing his first Masters 1000 final, Djokovic recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the opening set and eventually wore down the steady Argentine to finish off the match in just under two hours, and just before it began raining.
With his 36th Masters 1000 title, Djokovic moved one ahead of Nadal atop the all-time list.
In the women’s final earlier Monday, top-seeded Simona Halep won her first Rome title when 2019 champion Karolina PlÍsková retired midway through their match with a left thigh injury.
Schwartzman had beaten nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals then edged Denis Shapovalov in a long three-setter in the semifinals.
No player has beaten Nadal and Djokovic in the same tournament since 2016 when Juan Martin del Potro achieved the feat in the Rio Olympics.
Having received warnings from the chair umpire in his previous two matches — for smashing a racket in the quarter-finals and for foul language in the semifinals — Djokovic was on better behaviour in the final.
WATCH | Djokovic loses temper yet again in Rome quarter-finals:
Due to the pandemic, a crowd of only 1,000 fans was allowed inside the 10,500-seat Campo Centrale stadium.
The tournament, which was rescheduled from its usual May slot due to the pandemic, also had reduced prize money.
The men’s prize was reduced even more drastically. Djokovic received 205,200 euros ($242,000 US) compared to the 958,055 euros ($1.1 million) that Rafael Nadal took home last year.