Djokovic knew before he played Nadal in the Rome final that he would remain the No. 2 at least until Paris. But that did not detract from what was at stake in this particular final, the first time in Masters history that the same two players had met in four finals in the same year.
So the colosseum-shaped Centre Court, centrepiece of the Foro Italico that itself sits proudly on Rome’s Avenue of the Gladiators, completed a perfect Roman analogy.
Nadal had won 31 out of 32 matches in Rome, taking the title five times. He had also now become the first player to reach five straight Masters finals. His problem, though, was that he had lost to the same man in three of those finals and now faced him again.
And if Nadal expected his opponent to show signs of weariness from Djokovic's three-hour, three-set match the night before, he was soon disabused: The Serb continued where he had left off with piercing, line-skimming shots of remarkably consistent accuracy.
Their exchanges were long and probing, but Djokovic maintained the upper hand with a near-perfect combination of penetrating forehands, searing backhands and the most flexible defence in the game. Though he began to look battle-weary in the second set, he took the match, 6-4, 6-4, to extend his unbroken record to 39 matches and seven titles.
The ATP subsequently released a list of 39 stats to celebrate those 39 wins, but a handful of them is enough to tell the story: Zero—double faults in the Australian Open, Dubai and Miami finals; Five—wins in under an hour; Nine—sets lost and also bagel sets won; 14—sets won 6-1; 15—victories without being broken; 36—weeks at No. 2 until Roland Garros.
The significance of all these statistics can, though, be distilled into that last one. Unless Nadal wins the French Open title, Djokovic will become No. 1. And even if Nadal does win the title, Djokovic will take over the top spot if he reaches the final.
It is clearly what this most confident of players has in his sights:
“[Nadal] is…the best player ever to play on this surface. I have won against him twice in the last eight days which I think is an incredible achievement for me, and he has given me a lot of confidence for the French Open.”
Looking even further ahead, Djokovic has this week become only the second ever player to qualify for the WTFs ahead of Roland Garros. He’s already won that title once, at just 22, in Shanghai. Is there anyone who can stop him winning his second?