ROME (AP) — 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.
Earlier, Elina Svitolina defended the women’s title, facing little resistance from top-ranked Simona Halep in a 6-0, 6-4 win.
“I dominated all the match,” Svitolina said.
Just like in last year’s final, Halep appeared bothered by an injury.
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.
“Of course Rafa will be the favorite there. There’s no question about it,” Zverev said. “I’ll be in the other half of the draw and that’s a good thing.”
Still, Zverev was pleased that he dominated Nadal in the second set and was up a break in the third before the rain came.
“I was not far away from beating Rafa on a clay court in a Masters final, so I guess I can take that to Paris,” Zverev said.
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.
“He came out way faster and played much more aggressive than I did,” Zverev said. “It just changed momentum. The momentum was on my side. If you don’t have the momentum on your side, you’re not going to beat Rafa.”
Nadal even showed off his shot-making skills with an over-the-shoulder put away with his back to the net, earning long applause from the crowd.
“I came back with clear ideas in terms of tactical issues and positions,” Nadal said.
Nadal, who hadn’t won the Italian Open since 2013, picked up a winner’s check of 935,000 euros (nearly $1 million).
“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.”
Halep called a trainer onto the court for an apparent back problem while trailing 2-3 in the second set then exited the court for treatment under a medical timeout.
“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.”
Last year, Halep rolled her ankle in the final and lost a set lead to Svitolina.
This time, Svitolina didn’t face a single break point in a match that lasted just 67 minutes.
Halep said her physical problems were the result of a long three-set win over Maria Sharapova in the semifinals a day earlier
“Every time I play against Sharapova the ball is coming very flat and I bend down a lot,” Halep said.
Halep had already secured the No. 1 ranking for another week by reaching the semifinals.
Svitolina, who has never made it beyond the quarterfinals at a major, was hesitant to predict anything for Paris.
“In a Grand Slam it’s very tricky,” she said. “But I’m definitely going to Roland Garros on a high note.”
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