Novak Djokovic continued his domination over world No. 1 Rafael Nadal ahead of the French Open by claiming the Rome Masters crown 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday to stretch his unbeaten run this year to 37 matches.
The Serb, who defeated Nadal for the first time on clay in the Madrid Open final the previous weekend, won his seventh consecutive title by flattening the five-time champion on the bigger points in another brutal duel.
A rain-delayed start gave Djokovic a few extra hours to recover from Saturday’s draining three-hour semi-final win over Andy Murray, but there were ominous signs in the third game that the world No. 2 might still be weary as he dinked a drop shot that barely reached the bottom of the net. The Serbian recovered, though, crashing a forehand down the line to take the game.
Nadal remained unruffled and whizzed around the court to bring an excited Foro Italico crowd to their feet with a whipped forehand to level at 3-3.
After Nadal produced another superb running forehand, Djokovic conjured an incredible angle with a whipped forehand to hold serve.
In the next game, Djokovic won a marathon point at 15-15 and with the tension palpable, the Spaniard erred twice more — floating a forehand long, before mis-hitting another high into the Rome sky to hand the Serb the first break at 5-3.
He faltered on his first attempt to serve out the set, surrendering the advantage by netting the ball following another exhausting rally, but broke Nadal again with a brilliant backhand cross-court winner to take the set.
An anxious-looking Nadal fought back from 2-0 down in a fluctuating second set, before Djokovic underlined his mental toughness, forcing Nadal into errors to break in the ninth game of the set.
Djokovic saw his first three match points go begging, but he made no mistake on the fourth.
After a furious exchange which featured two net cords, Djokovic whipped a forehand and then watched on as a charging Nadal could only roll the ball into the net to hand the world No. 2 victory.