Rome, May 16: Novak Djokovic staked a further claim on the world number one ranking as the superlative Serb extended his massive 2011 win streak to 37 matches with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Rafael Nadal to claim the Rome Masters trophy.
Number two Djokovic has now beaten five-time Rome winner Nadal in four elite finals this season at the Masters 1000 level, following Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid last weekend on the Spaniard's home ground.
2008 Rome champion Djokovic cannot take over the top spot immediately but heads to Roland Garros starting May 22 with huge momentum. His seventh title of a perfect season came 24 hours after he held off Andy Murray in a dramatic semi in which the Scot served for the match.
Djokovic showed little sign of his previous efforts and played another two hours, 12 minutes to subdue Nadal.
“It was a real pleasure to play again against a great champion like Rafa,” said Djokovic as both winner and loser spoke to the crowd in Italian, “This stadium is special for me. It's a colosseum of tennis.” Nadal lost serve an unprecedented three times in succession from late in the first set and into the second. The top seed who was beaten for only the second time on Roman clay — where he still stands 31-2 — saved three match points in the final game on his own serve.
But Djokovic found a fourth and drilled a volley at Nadal's feet after another of the pair's power-hitting duels. The winner broke four times, notched 26 winners and 32 unforced errors and will carry his run of wins to Roland Garros.
“Novak played fantastic,” Nadal said. “I salute the public, which has always supported me.”