SPORTS

Nadal reclaims laurels in Rome

World number two defeats Djokovic for second time during clay season

Rafael Nadal admires the Rome Masters trophy on Monday. / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (AFP)

Rafael Nadal completed a Spanish sweep at the Rome Masters on Monday, defeating world number one Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-3 to lift the trophy at the Foro Italica for a record sixth time. Nadal's latest victory at a Masters 1000-tier tournament took his tally to 21 career titles, one more than Roger Federer, who drew level with the Spaniard when he claimed victory on the controversial blue clay surface in Madrid last week. It also ensured that Nadal, who had briefly dropped to world number three after his early exit in the Spanish capital, will be ranked two in the world when the French Open draw is made later this week and will definitely avoid his opponent in the rain-delayed Rome final, world number one Novak Djokovic, until the final Sunday in Paris.

Djokovic, defending one of the many titles he swiped from Nadal's grasp in a 43-match winning streak last season, has now lost both of the clay-court Masters crowns he picked up during that run. However, the Serb will merrily swap both Madrid and Rome for the French Open, which would place him in a category entirely of his own; no player has ever held all four grand slam titles over two seasons, with both Don Budge and Rod Laver having achieved the feat in a single year. However, Djokovic will probably have to overcome Nadal in order to do so and the pendulum in their rivalry has swung toward the Spaniard in recent weeks.

Last season Djokovic beat Nadal in every final they played, relieving the Spaniard of his Madrid, Rome, Wimbledon and US Open titles, as well as the number-one ranking, which he has held ever since. Including the Australian Open in January, Djokovic had won seven finals on the trot at the expense of Nadal, whose last triumph came during the round robin phase of the 2010 ATP World Tour Finals. The world number two broke that run in Monte Carlo and repeated the trick in the Italian capital to take his career record against Djokovic to 18-14.

Nadal laid down his marker early, earning break-point opportunities on the Serb's opening service game, even though Djokovic's athletic defensive talents allowed him to hold. The first break arrived in the fifth game but Djokovic immediately leveled the affair at 3-3 by snatching the Spaniard's serve. That would prove to be the last time Nadal lost a game on his own serve and at 5-5 in the first he broke again before reeling off the next four games to take the first set 7-5 and race into a 2-0 lead in the second. Djokovic carved out break chances but was unable to convert while Nadal pounced twice on the Serb's delivery to wrap up the second 6-3.

On Saturday, doubles pair Marc López and Marcel Granollers won their first ATP Tour title when they defeated world number nine Janko Tipsarevic and Lukasz Kubot 6-3, 6-2. The Spanish team had lost all four finals it had previously contested and dumped the third-seed pair of Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic out in the last four.

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