In the absence of the Italian Open which would have kicked off this week, here are our favourite five matches in the tournament’s history. Each is an absolute classic not to be missed.
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5. Gustavo Kuerten v Juan Carlos Ferrero (2001, Final)
Kuerten had long been the undisputed king of clay, but a young Juan Carlos Ferrero seemed a genuine threat to his crown. The Spaniard had not dropped a set on his way to his first Masters final and was now 17-1 for the year on clay. He had also pushed the world No.1 all the way in the semi-finals of Roland Garros the previous year. A year the wiser, could the young pretender do it?
4. Andy Murray v Novak Djokovic (2011, Semi-Final)
Djokovic was on an astonishing 37-match unbeaten run going into this semi-final. Murray, meanwhile, was on the hunt for his first clay court final and was enjoying a pretty formidable start to the year too, although a chastening straight sets defeat to the Serb in the final of Melbourne had derailed his early hard court season. There was nothing between the pair in this one though: three hours of stunning baseline tennis with barely any errors. Djokovic was in for the biggest challenge to his unbeaten run yet.
3. Rafael Nadal v Guillermo Coria (2005, Final)
Nadal had won four clay court events on the spin, including Monte Carlo where he had defeated Coria in four sets in the final. The Argentine had been a mainstay of the top 10 since 2003 and had picked up six clay court titles in that time, including Masters in Monte Carlo and Hamburg. Even for the precocious Nadal, he was a force to be reckoned with – and so it proved. A five-hour epic and one of the best finals Rome has ever seen.
2. Novak Djokovic v Juan Martin Del Potro (2019, Quarter-Final)
Del Potro had played only four matches in 2019 heading into Rome. Straight-sets victories over David Goffin and Casper Ruud were promising, but then came this show-stopper against the world number one. Both players at their very best in front of a packed Campo Centrale – it simply does not get better than this.
1. Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal (2006, Final)
It has been called the match that cemented the pair’s rivalry. Nadal had won four of their five previous meetings and here was looking to extend his win-streak on clay to an astonishing 53 to tie with Villas’s open era record set in 1977. But Federer had played some scintillating all-court tennis that week and brought his very best here. Would it be enough?