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Djokovic Triumphs In Rome; Steps Up Bid For Return To No. 1

Rome, Italy

Djokovic, Rome trophy© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic celebrates winning the Rome title for the third time.

Novak Djokovic stepped up his bid for a return to No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings on Sunday when he lifted the Internazionali BNL d’Italia trophy for a third time. The Serbian was last at the pinnacle of men’s professional tennis on 6 October 2013.

Second seed Djokovic beat No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal, a seven-time champion at the Foro Italico, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the Rome final that lasted two hours and 20 minutes. The victory added to his 2008 (d. Wawrinka) and 2011 (d. Nadal) titles at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournament. He has now won five of the past seven titles at this tournament level.

Read: How The Rome Final Was Won

Read: Rafa, Novak: The Rivalry

Watch Final Highlights

"It's been a great week considering where I've been a few weeks ago with the wrist injury," said Djokovic following the match. "Luckily for me, I played with no pain and increased the level of tennis as the week went on. I've had some tough matches. Four out of five matches were three-setters and I had to come back from one set down yesterday against Raonic and today again. That gives me a lot of confidence. Winning against Rafa in the final of a big tournament on clay, his preferred surface, is definitely a confidence booster.

"Experience helped me stay calm and play the right shots at the right time."

Djokovic, who improved to 19-22 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Nadal, walked away with €549,000 in prize money and earned 1,000 Emirates ATP Ranking points for winning his 19th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy. The soon-to-be 27 year old (on 22 May) is now tied at No. 13 with Thomas Muster in the Open Era titles leader lists with 44 crowns.

"It was amazing," added Djokovic, regarding the crowd support. "It's something that I don't take for granted, something I appreciate very much. I try to show them love as much as I can. Maybe it helps that I speak a little Italian, but I do feel at home and close to these people. I'm glad I could win the title in front of them."

Nadal was bidding to draw level with Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras on 64 titles. The Spaniard leaves Italy with €269,150 and 600 Emirates ATP Ranking points. For the first time in 10 years, he will enter Roland Garros with only one European clay court title (the Mutua Madrid Open). He has a 34-6 match record on the season, while Djokovic is 24-3 overall in 2014.

"I felt that Novak was pushing me and has a great talent to play inside the lines," said Nadal. "I think this week is important for me. I won 600 points. I was able to play in another final here. I was able to compete well against one of the best players of the moment. I arrive to Roland Garros now more encouraged than how I felt a few weeks ago.​"

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