Rafael Nadal did not just win his first title of 2019 on Sunday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. By defeating top seed Novak Djokovic in the final, the 32-year-old Spaniard also turned up the heat on the Serbian in the battle for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking.
With the 1,000 ATP Ranking points that Nadal (3,505) earned with his triumph at the Foro Italico, the nine-time Rome champion now trails first-placed Djokovic (4,005) by just 500 points in the ATP Race To London, which serves as a barometer for the chase for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking. If Djokovic had emerged victorious, he would have taken a 1,300-point lead in the Race.
On the Parisian terre battue, Nadal could take the Race lead regardless of how Djokovic performs by lifting his 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires. Since the Roland Garros winner earns 800 more points than the finalist, Nadal would move into first even if Djokovic is his opponent in the final.
So although Djokovic’s grip on the top spot in the ATP Rankings is in no immediate danger because defending champion Nadal cannot gain any additional points at Roland Garros this year, the battle for year-end No. 1 is red hot. And Djokovic believes his rival is the player to watch at the season’s second Grand Slam championship.
“Nadal [is the] number one favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else,” Djokovic said.
Just a week ago, the tennis world was left wondering about Nadal’s status. He had not yet lifted a trophy on the year, his longest early-season trophy drought since 2004, when he captured his maiden tour-level crown at Sopot in August. The World No. 2 arrived in the Italian capital without making a clay-court final in three tries; all semi-final appearances in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.
But Nadal now has momentum heading into Roland Garros. It may not become clear until later in the year when Djokovic begins to drop more points off his ATP Ranking, but Nadal is making a push to challenge for the year-end No. 1 spot.