Novak Djokovic showed his class at the Masters 1000 series as soon as he made his first steps on the Tour, reaching the maiden final in Indian Wells 2007 before winning the title two weeks later in Miami as the last teenager with the Masters 1000 crown. A few weeks after that, Djokovic notched his first notable results in clay Masters 1000 tournaments with the quarter-final appearances in Rome and Hamburg, building confidence ahead of the next Masters 1000 clay swing in 2008. Roger Federer halted Novak in the Monte Carlo semi-final that year before the Serb went all the way in Rome, lifting his first Masters 1000 title on clay in the seventh tournament of that level on the slowest surface. Suffering from a right foot blister, Rafael Nadal lost in the second round to Juan Carlos Ferrero, and the road was wide open for other players to dethrone him and win the most prestigious clay-court Masters 1000 event.
After a tight win over Igor Andreev in the third round, Novak had to play just 15 games in total against Nicolas Almagro and Radek Stepanek. They both retired after the second set’s opening game, and it was Stan Wawrinka standing between the Serb and the fourth Masters 1000 title. The Swiss won the opening set, but Novak bounced back to deliver a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph in two hours and four minutes. It was a beautiful serving display from Novak, dominating with his first serve and saving two out of three break points to keep the pressure on his rival. Wawrinka did grab the opening set thanks to that one break he scored, but he couldn’t keep the same pace in the rest of the encounter, getting broken three times from six opportunities that Novak created to miss a chance of winning only the second ATP title. Djokovic forged the gap in the mid-range rallies, while Wawrinka stayed in touch in the shortest and more extended exchanges, which wasn’t enough for a more positive outcome.
In Rome 2008, Novak Djokovic ousted Stan Wawrinka to claim the title.
It was a good start for both players in the first four games, and Novak experienced the problems on serve first, getting broken at 2-2 after Stan’s forehand down the line winner. The Swiss hit two winners after deuce in game six to increase the lead to 4-2, and Novak faced two more break points in game seven after losing ground in the last 15 minutes. He fended them off with winners and made a clinical hold with additional two service winners that kept him in contention. Stan held at love in game eight to move 5-3 ahead, and Novak did the same a few minutes later, forcing his opponent to serve for the set. Wawrinka brought it home with a service winner after 39 minutes, moving a step away from the most significant result on the Tour. Just like in the opening set, the second offered four easy holds before Djokovic delivered his first break of serve at 3-2 when Stan sent a forehand wide and held after deuce to increase the lead to 5-2.
The Serb fired four winners in game nine to seal the set and take the momentum ahead of the decider, looking good to lift the most significant title on clay after he already conquered those on hard court. Stan saved a break point with a service winner in the final set’s opening game before spraying a backhand error on the second to get broken and give Novak the crucial lead and even stronger boost. Djokovic cemented the break with a service winner and held everything under control in his service games, hitting another unreturned serve to move 3-1 ahead.
They both held at love in games five and six, and Stan was in trouble on serve again at 2-4, saving a break chance and reducing the deficit to 3-4 with a service winner. Novak was solid behind his initial shot in game eight and forced Stan to serve to stay in the match at 3-5. A loose backhand gave Novak a match point that Stan saved with a powerful serve before facing another after a forehand mistake. A forehand winner gave Djokovic the break and title, achieving the most notable result on the dirt outside Roland Garros, where Rafael Nadal toppled him in three straight years between 2006-2008.