Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates with champagne after winning the final against Germany's Alexander Zverev

Nadal Victorious in Rome to Climb Back to World Number 1

An eighth Rome Masters title propelled Rafael Nadal back to the top of the world rankings, but it was a stern test of the Spaniard by rising star Alexander Zverev.

While most of Europe bathed in sunshine, Rome was hit by rain that forced a considerable delay to proceedings at one stage. The weather only added to the drama that had seen the pair trade the opening two sets.

Zverev had a break of serve in the final set prior to the rain delay, but Nadal emerged from the interval in dominant form as he wrapped up a 6-1 1-6 6-3 success.

After retiring during the Australian Open on account of injury, Nadal has powered back to life on his favourite clay surface and the only blemish on his record during the European swing was a defeat in Madrid – where he has historically struggled on account of the altitude.

But back at the Foro Italico, Nadal saw off Damir Dzumhur, Denis Shapovalov, Fabio Fognini and Novak Djokovic on his way to the final.

In the final, he was faced with the challenge of one of the bright hopes for the future of the game – and Zverev demonstrated exactly why.

He traded power from the baseline with Nadal and showed the strength of character to battle back from being overwhelmed in the first set to control the second.

The third set was much more open, but as has so often been the case on clay during his stellar career Nadal found a way of breaking through his opponent.

After losing his serve, Nadal adopted an ultra-aggressive approach. His ground strokes on both wings were crisp and had great depth, while on a number of occasions he provided Zverev with a different challenge by advancing to the net.

The young German showed he has the class and temperament to compete at the top of the game, but at the big moments he found Nadal just too good.

“It has been an amazing week,” said Nadal, per the ATP Tour’s official website. “Such an important week to have this trophy with me again after losing in the quarter-finals in Madrid. It was unforgettable and emotional for me. It’s amazing to win eight titles in Rome. It’s a difficult event and to have the chance to win again here means a lot. This is the moment to enjoy winning here again.”

With the next step on the road being the second major of the season at the French Open, Nadal only reinforced his position as heavy favourite – 188BET have him priced at 1.35 – for his 11th title at Roland Garros.

He will roll into Paris as the world number one, having been knocked off that perch one week previous by Roger Federer, and he will need to defend his crown at Roland Garros if he is to remain at the summit.

The challenge awaits, and it’s one Nadal will relish.