Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova were crowned as the Italian Open champions yesterday, after very different victories in their respective singles finals. Djokovic continued his dominance in 2015 to deny Roger Federer a first title in Rome. Sharapova had a far tougher challenge against Carla Suarez Navarro, coming back from a set down to take her third title in the Italian capital.
Djokovic back in the groove
The Serbian player had been competitive rather than exhilarating on his way to the final. Uncharacteristically he had dropped sets in the earlier rounds, but had seemed far more assured in overcoming David Ferrer in the semis. He was back to his clinical best against his old rival Federer, perhaps saving his best #Tennis for his toughest opponent of the week as he triumphed 6-4 6-3.
Break points were at a premium during the match. Federer failed to convert the one and only chance he could create; Djokovic fared better to decisively take two of the five he was offered. The first set was a close contest until the tenth game, when Djokovic finally got the breakthrough on the Swiss player's serve. The margins of success or failure were so close, that the world number one had to find the edge of the line to force the break.
He was swiftly back on top in the second set, breaking Federer again early on and then retaining the narrow advantage until the end. Federer continued to press but could find little joy on his opponent's serve.
Favourite for French title
Despite those dropped sets against Nicolas Almagro, Thomaz Bellucci and Kei Nishikori in Rome, Djokovic remains unbeaten after 22 successive matches. Worryingly for his opponents he seems capable of raising his game just when he needs to most, whether to snuff out danger on his own serve or to force a break. He will be the clear favourite for the French Open title, despite Rafael Nadal's previous dominance on his favourite surface. Federer and Britain's own Andy Murray may have something to say about the outcome, but few would look outside of Djokovic for the likely winner of the second Grand Slam of 2015.
Sharapova comeback in women's final
Sharapova seems to be firmly on course for retaining her title at the French Open, after a battling display in Rome against the Spaniard Suarez Navarro. Despite losing the first set to the world number ten seed, the Russian maintained her focus as her rival seemed to run out of energy towards the end of the match. It allowed Sharapova to first level the match and then run away with the contest in the deciding third set, for an encouraging 4-6 7-5 6-1 victory.
Crucial point in second set
Champions tend to sense the moment when they need to stamp their authority on proceedings and Sharapova did just that in the second set. A tight battle was developing with the scores locked at 5-5, yet the Russian found an extra gear to claim the next 8 points in succession and take the set. It seemed to be the catalyst for the ultimate outcome of the match, as her opponent offered little resistance after that.Serena Williams should come back healthy for the French, after withdrawing from the Rome event with an injury concern. She would usually be the outstanding favourite, especially after her fabulous run up to Italy. Yet the injury concerns may come back to haunt her somewhere down the line if the matches get close, so Sharapova will fancy her chances of more success in France.