ATP Rome Masters: Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal in final
Novak Djokovic dethroned Rafael Nadal to claim his third title at the Rome Masters with a 4-6 6-3 6-3 victory.
By Razwan Mirza - Tweet me: @RazMirza
Last Updated: 20/05/14 10:40am
Serbia's world No 2 Djokovic proved too strong on the red clay of Rome, to land the title again having won in 2008 and 2011, the latter with victory over Nadal.
Nadal had been looking to stretch his record to eight victories in the Italian capital.
But despite a dominant first set display the world No 1 allowed unforced errors to creep into his game as Djokovic launched a valiant fightback and put himself in pole position to win a first French Open which starts next Sunday.
The six-time Grand Slam champion hit an impressive 46 winners compared to just 15 from Nadal to come through in two hours and 19 minutes of action.
Djokovic, speaking in Italian at the on-court presentation, said: "It's a special moment to win this tournament.
"I want to thank my team who are always close to me and give me tons of support throughout my career. None of this would be possible without them.
"I've really appreciated the chance to play here over the years and this final was an incredible challenge. I hope to return next year, see you again."
Defeat for Nadal was his third on clay in a season for the first time in a decade and raised questions about his form ahead of Roland Garros.
In the 41st meeting between the pair, it was top-ranked Nadal, aiming for his eighth success in Rome, who made the better start, breaking his opponent twice before the Serb found some rhythm to retrieve one of the breaks back to make it 4-2.
Djokovic failed to take advantage of a break point opportunity in the eighth game and the Spaniard duly wrapped up the opening set on his next service game.
He then jumped all over Nadal's opening service game of the second set and broke with a flashing crosscourt forehand winner.
Despite opening up a 3-0 lead, Nadal, who went the distance against Gilles Simon, Mikhail Youzhny and Andy Murray this week, clawed his way back by breaking in the fifth game, but he then crucially double-faulted at break point to Djokovic in the next.
The Indian Wells and Miami Masters champion hit 18 winners on his way to serving out the set and taking the clash into a decider.
And 26-year-old Djokovic continued his momentum by breaking through again in the opening game before an under siege Nadal managed to hold on to his serve in the third.
The Mallorcan restored parity at 3-3, but the Serb showed amazing durability to roar back and dominate the defending champion after that.
"He's one of the best in the world, he's playing great," said the Spaniard, who has now lost three matches in the same claycourt season for the first time since 2004.
"I played well for moments, I had my chances for moments, but I could have done with a little more energy at times. My legs didn't answer me after a tough week."
Nadal added: "I was able to find positive things during the tournament but I played three very tough matches this week and it was very hard mentally, as well as physically. I was a little bit tired."
Nadal still holds a 22-19 career edge, but Djokovic, who landed his 19th ATP Masters title and his fifth in the last six such events, has now won their last four meetings.