Djokovic triumphs Diego, wins 36th masters title, Halep conquers ahead French Open

World number one Novak Djokovic won a record 36th Masters title by beating Diego Schwartzman in the Italian Open.

The Serb, playing in his first tournament since being disqualified from this month’s US Open, won 7-5 6-3 in the final to ensure he goes into next week’s French Open on a high.

Djokovic, 33, drew level with Rafael Nadal last month on the all-time list of Masters winners with his Western & Southern Open title.

“I’m super pleased,” Djokovic said.

“It was a great week, a very challenging week. I don’t think I played my best tennis this week but I think I found my best tennis in the decisive moments.

“I’m proud I managed to find that fifth gear when I needed to.”

Watched by a crowd of about 1,000 socially distanced fans, Djokovic got off to a poor start against Argentine eighth seed Schwartzman, finding himself two breaks down at 3-0 as the rain fell in Rome.

But as the weather improved so did the Serb’s game as he quickly strung together a double break of his own before going on to carve out a set point at 5-4 on Schwartzman’s serve, which the world number 15 saved with a forehand winner.

Djokovic was denied on two more set points two games later before finally taking the opener after 71 minutes.

He again fell behind at the start of the second set but immediately broke back against Schwartzman, who beat favourite Nadal in the quarter-finals.

Two unforced errors from Schwartzman and a winner from Djokovic set up three break points in the eighth game, the first of which the Serb converted with a blistering forehand winner.

Djokovic then set up three match points after a series of winners that had Schwartzman scampering around the court, sealing a fifth Italian Open title on the third when the Argentine went wide.

It is Djokovic’s 81st career title and fourth of the year and sends him to Roland Garros with a spring in his step after his humiliating exit from the US Open, where he was defaulted for accidentally hitting a ball at a line judge.

The French Open starts on Sunday, with Nadal seeking a record-extending 13th men’s singles title in Paris.

Earlier, top seed Simona Halep warmed up for next week’s French Open by winning her first Italian Open title after opponent Karolina Pliskova retired injured.

Romania’s Halep led 6-0 2-1 against the Czech second seed, whose movement seemed to be hampered from the start.

After a 20-minute first set, Pliskova had treatment but could not continue.

Halep, who won the French Open title in 2018, has won 14 matches in a row either side of the enforced break because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The rearranged French Open starts at Roland Garros in Paris on Sunday.

Halep will be the top seed at the Grand Slam event in the absence of defending champion Ashleigh Barty, who does not want to travel from Australia because of coronavirus.

On the evidence of her recent form the reigning Wimbledon champion will be highly fancied to win a third Grand Slam.

Halep’s victory in the prestigious Italian Open meant she has won a 22nd WTA title and a ninth on a clay court.

However, the Rome final did not provide the test which she would have anticipated.

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