As the sun rose across the United States on Monday morning, Rafael Nadal was ending Novak Djokovic's recent dominance over him, defeating the world No. 2 their rain delayed final at the Italian Open, 7-5, 6-3. With the victory, Nadal gave himself a badly-needed boost of confidence, reasserted his dominance on the clay courts he's owned for much of the last decade and moved to No. 2 in the ATP rankings, ensuring that he wouldn't see Djokovic until a possible French Open final. Or that's the narrative being spun for the tennis fans in the U.S. who weren't able to watch the 6 AM ET match.
All of it is true. Nadal was back to his virtuoso self on Rome's red clay and, watching him slide and defend, it was hard to remember last year when he didn't win a set in two clay court finals against Djokovic. But lost in the Nadal hoopla was something that is unlikely to be covered by a wire story or 30-second highlight package: For as good as Rafa was, Nole had opportunities to take control of the match.
The best was late in the first set at 30-30 on Nadal's serve and Djokovic leading 5-4. The world No. 1 hit a wicked forehand that appeared good, but was ruled wide. His potential set point turned into an easy Nadal hold and Djokovic never recovered. Replay showed the ball was clearly in.
Djokovic failed to convert multiple break point chances in the second set, including four in one game.
Nadal is the eternal favorite at Roland Garros and is expected to hoist his seventh trophy at the French Open. Monday may or may not have made that clearer.