Back on top: Nadal beats Djokovic for 9th Italian Open title

ROME (AP) — Rafael Nadal is right back where he wants to be.

After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Nadal dominated for stretches against his longtime rival, Novak Djokovic, in a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win Sunday for a record-extending ninth Italian Open title.

“You were asking for titles. Finally I have a title,” Nadal told reporters. “Here we are. Important title, important moment.”

It marked the first time in an Open Era-record 54 meetings, and in their 142nd set against each other, that Nadal won a set against Djokovic without conceding a game — otherwise known as a bagel.

In all, Nadal had a career-high four bagel sets in this tournament.

“I played a great first set in all aspects. No mistakes. Playing so aggressive, changing directions,” Nadal said. “It’s not usual and probably will not happen again.”

The timing for Nadal’s return to form could not have been more opportune, as he will seek a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.

“Winning a title is important but for me the most important thing is (to) feel myself competitive, feel myself healthy,” Nadal said. “Then with the feeling that I am improving. I know if I’m…

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