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Djokovic Dethrones Defending Champion Nadal

Rome, Italy

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic clinched his ninth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown.

World No. 2 Novak Djokovic continues to marvel. A week after ending Rafael Nadal’s 37-match unbeaten run on clay in the Mutua Madrid Open final, the Serbian dethroned the Spaniard in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final with a 6-4, 6-4 win on Sunday evening in Rome.

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“He is the king of clay and he is the best player ever to play on this surface. I have won against him twice in the last eight days which I think is incredible, an incredible achievement for me, and he has given me a lot of confidence for the French Open,” said Djokovic. “This is only a couple of tournaments this year and he has since been dominant on this surface for so many, many years.”

Djokovic has now won 39 successive tour-level matches (37-0 in 2011), the sixth-longest winning streak in the Open Era. He has not been beaten since the semi-finals (l. to Federer) of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November and has opened this season by winning seven successive titles, beginning with his second Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open (d. Murray).

After getting the better of Nadal in the finals on hard court at the BNP Paribas Open and the Sony Ericsson Open in March, many expected the Spaniard to right those wrongs come the clay-court season, during which he has been utterly dominant in recent years. Not so.

Nadal, who completed a historic clay sweep last Spring – taking in the three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court titles before triumphing at Roland Garros – has been unable to find the answer to Djokovic’s brilliance this season and now has surrendered two of his crowns to the Belgrade native. Indeed, going into Sunday’s final, the Spaniard had lost just one match in his past 32 at the Foro Italico and had won the title five times (2005-2007; 2009-2010) before being upended by Djokovic in straight sets.

“I have been doing everything that I can so I cannot ask myself more,” said Nadal. “I am trying and I am doing very well, but one player is doing better than me. The champion in my opinion is not only be able to win every week; it is when they are able to wait at the right moments and I am waiting at every week, trying to find solutions, and we will see what is going on next time… I wish him all the best and I have to wait my moment to win another time.”

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The 23-year-old Djokovic claimed his ninth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, and fourth of the season. He is the first player to win four Masters 1000 crowns in the same season since Nadal and Roger Federer claimed four apiece in 2005.

Already a strong favourite to qualify for the year-end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, Djokovic earned a further 1000 South African Airways 2011 ATP Ranking points and € 438,000 in prize money. Nadal received 600 ranking points and € 205,000.

After fighting back from the brink to defeat Andy Murray in a dramatic late-finishing semi-final on Saturday night, it was expected fatigue could play a part in Djokovic’s performance in the final. However, there was no evidence of tiredness in the Serb’s legs as he broke down Nadal’s defences in the eighth game to lead 5-3. Nadal immediately struck back in the following game to get back on serve, but his reprieve was only temporary as Djokovic broke again in the 10th game to seal the set with a backhand winner cross court.

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Nadal was immediately under pressure in the early stages of the second set and fell behind 0-2 as he sliced a backhand wide on break point. Determined not to surrender his title without a fight, though, the Spaniard straightaway pegged Djokovic back as the Serb committed costly errors in the third game.

With the tension mounting at the close of the second set it was Djokovic who stepped up his game to force the issue. The right-hander battered Nadal from the baseline to earn three match points at 0/40 on the Spaniard’s serve in the 10th game and, although unable to convert any of those three, he capitalised on a fourth opportunity to claim victory in two hours and 12 minutes.

“I was amazed the way I was going to be under the circumstances and the conditions that I was,” Djokovic said. “[It was a] really hard match last night against a player that was playing great. I was on the verge of losing a match and I was coming back and to be able to perform perhaps my best tennis on clay courts and he is the number one player in world history and just amazing. I am still trying to enjoy this victory.”

Despite the loss, Nadal drew positives from his performance in Rome: “My level felt much better today than it did in Madrid. I was able to go inside the court and move well and to play more aggressive, and I think I did. I am not disappointed about my match and I am not sad tonight. We will try next time.”

Victory marked Djokovic’s second triumph at the Foro Italico, having first lifted the trophy in 2008 with victory over Stanislas Wawrinka. Also runner-up to Nadal in the 2009 final, the Serb improved to an 18-3 tournament mark.

“I am most happy about the game this year on clay,” he said. “The way I was fighting all the way, I am confident and aware and [have] self-belief that I can win against the top players.”

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