As if losing a claycourt tournament before the French Open wasn’t bad enough for Rafael Nadal, he’s now been overtaken by Novak Djokovic on the all-time Masters 1000 titles list.
Djokovic won his fifth Italian Open title on Monday, 15 days after being kicked out of the US Open in disgrace.
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Djokovic beat Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 in Monday’s final, passing 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 re-asserting his dominance before the French Open starts in six days.
Djokovic improved to 31-1 this year - with his only loss against Pablo Carreno Busta in the fourth round of the US 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.
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.
With his 36th Masters 1000 title, Djokovic moved one ahead of Nadal atop the all-time list.
Schwartzman had beaten nine-time Rome champion Nadal in the quarter-finals then edged Denis Shapovalov in a long three-setter in the semis.
No player has beaten Nadal and Djokovic in the same tournament since 2016 when Juan Martin del Potro achieved the feat in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Having received warnings from the chair umpire in his previous two matches - for smashing a racquet in the quarterfinals and for foul language in the semifinals - Djokovic was on better behaviour in the final.
“I did experience mentally some kind of ups and downs in the first four-five days after that happened. I was in shock,” Djokovic said of the default.
“But I moved on and, really, I never had an issue in my life to move on from something.
“Regardless how difficult it is I try to take the next day and hope for the best and move on.
“Having a tournament a week after that happened helped a lot ... just because I really wanted to get on the court and just get whatever traces of that - if there's any - out, and I think I had a really good week.”
Djokovic says Nadal still French Open favourite
After the match, Djokovic claimed Nadal will still head to Roland Garros as the red-hot favourite despite showing he can be beaten on clay.
“Even though he lost this week, I still think, a lot of people will agree, he's the No.1 favourite and, the record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can't put anybody in front of him,” said Djokovic.
“But, you know, definitely Diego showed that Nadal is beatable on clay.”
Conditions in Roland Garros could also have an impact, with the tournament pushed back to autumn because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nadal “prefers high bounces, that it is hot, that the ball goes fast,” said Djokovic, the French Open champion in 2016.
“So let's see. It's going to be interesting. I think even though he’s the No.1 favourite, I think there are players that can win against him there.”
Schwartzman agreed that Nadal was the favourite.
“Rafa is the king. It's his house. He went to Roland Garros many years playing good, sometimes not playing his best and he won,” the Argentine said.
“I think Rafa is always there, the guy who is going to win.”