Novak Djokovic has paid a classy tribute to Rafael Nadal after losing to his great rival in the Italian Open final.
Nadal stamped his claim as French Open favourite with a 7-5 1-6 6-3 win over Djokovic to claim a record-extending 10th title in Rome in the latest chapter of their great rivalry.
'SAD TO SEE': Fans stunned by Andy Murray announcement
'NEVER LEARNS': Novak Djokovic slammed over 'disgusting' act
After a mid-match wobble, Nadal turned up the heat in the decisive moments of his 57th meeting with top seed Djokovic - the pair's ninth in Rome - to secure the victory over the defending champion in two hours and 49 minutes.
The win will provide Nadal with a huge boost as he next targets a 14th Roland Garros crown when the clay-court grand slam begins on May 30.
Taking to social media after the match, Djokovic paid tribute to Nadal.
"Congratulations to Rafa. Still exciting to meet in the finals," he posted on Twitter.
Novak Djokovic takes swipe at 'Next Gen'
Djokovic also took a cheeky swipe at all the talk about the younger generation coming through, saying Nadal and himself are the 'Next Gen'.
"The Next Gen young people? Me, Rafa and Roger (Federer) are reinventing the Next Gen. We are the Next Gen," Djokovic said after accepting the runners-up trophy.
Both Nadal, 34, and Djokovic, 33, had ousted the last two 'Next Gen' trophy winners in Rome this week - Jannik Sinner, 19, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22 respectively.
Nadal, who shares the all-time record of 20 majors with Federer, also saved two match points to defeat Denis Shapovalov, 22, and gained revenge on his Madrid Masters slayer Alexander Zverev, 24.
"Rafa is one of the biggest rivals I've had in my career, every time it's a struggle, today almost three hours," said Djokovic, an 18-time grand slam winner.
The Serb later expanded in his post match press conference, saying: "I mean, I said it a thousand times. I don't know how many times people want me to repeat it.
"Of course the Next Gen is there, is coming, whatever. But here we are still winning the biggest tournaments and slams.
"I don't know what to tell you other than that. I'm not focused on the Next Gen even though I know people, you know, it creates a story.
"People like to talk about it. Fine. The guys are there. They are already establishing themselves in the top 5, top 10 of the world. Nothing new. But we are still there."
Djokovic leads Nadal in their overall head-to-head record 29-28, but has not beaten the Spaniard on clay since the 2016 Italian Open quarter-finals.
Nadal's triumph also allowed him to match Djokovic's record of 36 Masters 1000 titles.
"I was lucky in some moments, especially against Shapovalov," Nadal said, referring to the round of 16 match that he won in a tiebreak in the decider.
"And then I think I played a good tournament. I have been playing better and better, finding my rhythm on clay. I had a very positive week and I'm very happy.
"It's amazing to have this trophy in my hands for the 10th time. It's something impossible to imagine but it happened, so I'm super happy and can't thank my team enough."
Watch 'Mind Games', the new series from Yahoo Sport Australia exploring the often brutal mental toil elite athletes go through in pursuit of greatness:
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.