Alexander Zverev had a third set lead against top-seeded Rafael Nadal in the final of the Italian Open in Rome. But Nadal took control after a rain delay to claim a 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 victory and capture his third title of the 2018 season.

Rafael Nadal Italian Open
Rafael Nadal poses with the Italian Open trophy after defeating Alexander Zverev in the tournaments final on Sunday. (Image: Getty)

The win also allowed Nadal to recapture the No. 1 world ranking from Roger Federer, meaning that Rafa will head into the French Open as the worlds top-ranked player.

All-Time Great vs. Rising Star

The Italian Open final pitted Nadal, perhaps the greatest clay-court tennis player in the sports history, against Zverev, the young German sensation who is ranked No. 3 in the world and who was coming off a victory in the Madrid Open.

After dropping his serve in the very first game, Nadal took only 33 minutes to win the first set, winning six straight games to close it out. Zverev evened up the score in the second set with the help of a more aggressive approach that seemed to overwhelm Rafa at times.

That continued in the third set, as Zverev started by breaking Nadal again. The 21-year-old would jump out to a 3-1 lead before rain caused an hour-long delay. When play restarted, Nadal had regained his composure, and went on a run of his own, winning the final five games to finish off the match.

When it happened, the rain delay, I didnt feel in that moment that it would help me, Nadal commented after the match. But really, in my opinion, what helped me is that I came back with a clear idea in terms of tactical issues and in terms of decisions that I take after the break.

If Zverev was highly disappointed in dropping the match, he didnt show it in his post-match comments.

You know, I was not far away from beating Rafa on a clay court in a Masters final, he said. So I guess I can take that to Paris.

Nadal Favored for French Open, Zverev also in Mix

With Roger Federer sitting out the clay-court season, Nadal and Zverev are likely to go into Roland Garros as the top two seeds in the field. And as the only two players to win major titles on clay this year, they are naturally the bookmakers favorites as well.

Nadal, unsurprisingly, is the overwhelming choice to walk away with an 11th French Open title. William Hill has the Spaniard listed as the 4/9 favorite, making him a clear choice over the rest of the 128-player field.

But Zverev (7/1) has clearly moved into the tennis elite, and is starting to get some respect for his clay-court play as well. Next on the board is Dominic Thiem (9/1), who is the one man to have beaten Nadal on clay this year. Finally, Novak Djokovic (10/1) is still getting a fair amount of respect from bettors. While he hadnt accomplished much this season, he did reach the semifinals in Rome before losing to Nadal in straight sets.

While those odds and the Italian Open victory might make it seem like victory at the French Open is all but assured for Nadal, he told reporters after the match that he isnt trying to take too much from his latest victory.

Of course a win like this helps but in Paris the conditions will be different in every respect, Rafa said. Today is the time to enjoy this victory, not for thinking about Roland Garros.

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