Novak Djokovic secured a record-breaking triumph at the Internazionali d’Italia as he sealed a perfect response to his US Open woe.
The world number one defeated Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 in Monday’s final, the same scoreline he had recorded to defeat Casper Ruud in the last four to reach a 10th final at the tournament.
Djokovic’s 36th ATP Masters 1000 title – which moved him ahead of Rafael Nadal into the outright lead – and 81st overall on the ATP Tour was an ideal response after he was disqualified from the US Open.
That infamous default came after he struck the ball at a line judge during his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta in New York this month.
After overcoming a nervous start against Schwartzman, victory gave Djokovic a fifth title in Rome, though it was his first since 2015 – having lost three finals and suffered a semi-final exit in the previous four years.
He will now bid to end the French Open dominance of Nadal, who stunningly went out to Schwartzman in the quarter-finals in Italy, when the upcoming last grand slam of the year begins in Paris.
Djokovic won the first set despite losing the first three games, recording 18 unforced errors and seeing a set point go begging at 5-4 when his Argentine opponent unleashed a superb cross-court forehand.
He had three more opportunities in Schwartzman’s next service game, though, taking the last of those to move ahead.
A comeback looked to be on the cards when Djokovic sent a forehand wide to give Schwartzman a break in the first game of the second set.
But the Serbian, who converted five of his nine break points on the day, struck straight back and decisively moved 5-3 ahead later in the set with a fine backhand down the line.
After saving two match points, Schwartzman sent a shot wide on the next as Djokovic – who may have expected a different outcome when he fell a double break down to start the match – looked relieved as he raised his arms and congratulated his opponent on a superb tournament.