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Nadal Clinches Record Fourth Rome Title

Rome, Italy

Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic© AFP/Getty ImagesRafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic

Reigning ATP World Tour Champion Rafael Nadal won a record fourth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title with a hard-fought 7-6(2), 6-2 victory over defending champion Novak Djokovic on Sunday at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tennis tournament in Rome.

Nadal is rewarded with 1000 South African Airways 2009 ATP Ranking points and €434,000, while defeat for World No. 3 Djokovic means that he will be surpassed in the Rankings by No. 4 Andy Murray on 11 May when the 2008 Rome points drop off.

The 22-year-old Nadal has now amassed a staggering 15 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 shields - second only (since 1990) to the now-retired Andre Agassi, who holds the record with 17 titles won during his illustrious 20-year career.

"[It is] one of the most important [titles] of my career," said Nadal. [To] win in Rome is a a big title. I have right now 15 Masters 1000 [wins] in my career, so that's a lot, and I'm very happy for that.

"[To] win here in Rome is always unbelievable.  It's a very good tournament, and I am very happy for the victory. I am going to try my best in the next tournaments. Important thing for me right now I have 15 (Masters 1000 titles). It is a lot. Sure, I would love to have more than 17."

Victory marked Nadal’s 30th consecutive clay-court match win, including 16 wins in a row this season; his last loss on the surface came against Juan Carlos Ferrero in the Rome second round last year. During the span, he has won 71 of 75 sets and clinched four titles. Since 2005, Nadal has compiled an outstanding 147-4 match record on clay.

The Spaniard is currently seventh on the list of clay-court title leaders with 25 tour-level titles on the crushed brick. He is already over halfway to reaching Guillermo Vilas’ Open Era record of 45 triumphs.

In their second ATP World Tour final meeting in three weeks, Nadal was fast out of the blocks – breaking in the first game to stamp his authority early in the pair’s 17th meeting. However, two rare forehand errors from the Mallorcan when he served for the set at 5-4 brought Djokovic back into the set as he levelled at 5-5.

Djokovic failed to capitalise on his momentum and was immediately broken again by Nadal to trail 5-6. But the defending champion refused to relinquish the set without a continued fight and his persistence was rewarded as Nadal miss-hit a forehand to lose serve for the second time.

Six-time Grand Slam champion Nadal raised his level in the tie-break though and as he cut out his errors, Djokovic was unable to maintain his high-level of play and was made to pay the price as a failed drop shot trickled down his own side of the net to grant Nadal a hard-fought one-set lead.

The 21-year-old Djokovic produced more of the top form that saw him defeat Roger Federer in the semi-finals to stay on an even keel with Nadal early in the second set. But the Spaniard’s continued brilliance on the clay proved too hot for Djokovic to handle ultimately and he broke through in the sixth game as Djokovic double faulted under the pressure.

After two hours and three minutes of high-quality action, Nadal closed out his 13th victory over Djokovic with a second break of serve as he flicked a forehand pass up the line past the resigned Djokovic.

"Obviously it's his patience in the certain points (that is key)," Djokovic said. "When I needed to maybe stay a little bit more patient and just play the right shots  I made some unforced errors. It happens a couple of times already on this surface that I'm close, and in the deciding moments he just overcomes the pressure better than me. But that's why he's the best in the world in this moment. Overall, I'm really happy with the week."

Nadal improved to a 22-1 event match record by clinching a record fourth Rome title. He previously won in 2005 and 2006 with epic five-set victories over Guillermo Coria and Roger Federer respectively, before winning his third successive title in the Italian capital with a straight-sets win over Fernando Gonzalez in 2007. Jaroslav Drobny (1950-52), Martin Mulligan (1963, ’65, ’67) and Thomas Muster (1990, ’95-96) are the others who have won three titles in Rome.

Nadal improved to an ATP World Tour-best 38-3 match record on the season after capturing his fifth tour-level title from six finals. He clinched his first hard-court Grand Slam title at the Australian Open with back-to-back five-set victories over Fernando Verdasco and Roger Federer before continuing his hard-court success at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells (d. Murray).

The left-hander then took his strong form into the European clay-court season, where he won the ATP World Tour Masters Monte-Carlo title (d. Djokovic) and Barcelona crown (d. Ferrer) for the fifth successive year.

"[Regardless] the result in Madrid and Roland Garros, the clay season is unbelievable. I'm very happy for everything. Sure it's a big surprise for me to win three titles in a row in three weeks. But I never did in the past, so it's a good thing for me to know I can do."

Nadal won his 36th tour-level title in his 45th final. He has 25-1 lifetime record in clay-court finals, with his lone loss coming to Roger Federer in the 2007 Hamburg final.

Djokovic was contesting his third consecutive ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final after finishing runner-up to Andy Murray in the Miami final and Nadal in Monte-Carlo. The Belgrade native, who will headline the inaugural event in his hometown next week, dropped to a 12-9 mark in tour-level finals. His most recent title, and his only one of the season, came in Dubai (l. to Ferrer) in February.

"I've been playing really well in the last three Masters 1000 events, and I'm really happy with the shape I'm in in this moment," said Djokovic. "Confidence is really important in this sport, in any sport. Right now I think I have good confidence. Hopefully I can continue with the successful tournament."

The right-hander captured the Rome title, his last at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level, last year with victory over Stanislas Wawrinka in the title match.

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