Rome: Daniil Medvedev beat Holger Rune 7-5, 7-5 to win the Italian Open on Sunday, his first trophy in a clay court tournament and a major boost ahead of the French Open.
"I don't love clay, but let's call it a friendship," said Medvedev after his one-hour, 41-minute win over the 20-year-old Dane.
Medvedev, who had been 0-3 in Rome prior to this year's edition, claimed his fifth title of the season and 20th of his career.
"I always want to believe in myself and I always want to win the biggest tournaments in the world," said former world number one Medvedev who knocked out 2017 champion Alexander Zverev and 2022 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas on his way to the final.
"But at the same time, I didn't think I could win a Masters 1000 on clay in my career because usually I hated it, I hated playing on it. I didn't feel good on it and nothing was working."
Sunday's final was the first in Rome since 2004 without either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.
"When I came here I felt so good in practice and I told my coach, 'I don't know what is happening but I am feeling amazing, so let's see how it goes'," added Medvedev.
"But then you have to play the toughest opponents in the world to try to make it.
"I am really happy I managed to do it and to prove to myself and everyone else that I am capable of doing it."
The French Open, the second Grand Slam of the year, starts in Paris next Sunday.
Medvedev was an opening-round loser in the French capital in all his first four visits before making the quarter-finals in 2021 and last 16 in 2022.
"I like clay much more now," he said after Sunday's final which secured him a sixth trophy at the elite Masters 1000 level.
Medvedev took charge of the final which started 90 minutes late due to more rain, seizing the opening set with a break in the final game.
The momentum slowed in the second as Rune began with a break of the third seed to love, only to lose it for 2-all.
Step it up
World number seven Rune struck back in the seventh game, which began with a 38-shot rally and ended with Medvedev sending a return long to trail 4-3.
Rune made it 5-3 as he won his 13th point from 16 but was broken back for a second time in the set for 5-5.
Two games later, Medvedev took victory when his opponent fired a forehand long.
"Today we both started a little nervous," Medvedev said. "We were missing easy shots.
"I was able to step it up at the end of the first set before he did.
"But in the second he stepped up immediately, I knew I had to play better and not overthink it too much, just go up to his level. After that I played amazing."
Medvedev was playing his second clay final after Barcelona in 2019 where he lost to Dominic Thiem.
Rune was trying to become the youngest player to win the title in Rome since then-19-year-old Rafael Nadal lifted the trophy in 2006.
He defeated Novak Djokovic and Casper Ruud en route to Sunday's final and had been hoping to win a second Masters after triumphing at Paris last year. -- AFP