Fox News - Fair & Balanced

Sports


Nadal tops Djokovic for sixth Italian Masters crown



Rome, Italy (Sports Network) - Rafael Nadal appears to be ready for another lengthy French Open run.

The year's second Grand Slam starts in just six days and the six-time Roland Garros champion claimed his third clay court title of 2012 on Monday with a thorough 7-5, 6-3 victory over Novak Djokovic in the final at the Italian Masters.

Nadal also beat Djokovic for the Monte Carlo crown in April and captured the Barcelona title a week later. He was then a surprise third-round loser on the strange blue clay in Madrid, but found his comfort zone back on the red dirt in Rome and ripped through the field without dropping a set on the way to his sixth Italian championship.

"I am happy that I won in Rome without losing a set against the best players in the world like [Tomas] Berdych and [David] Ferrer and Djokovic," Nadal noted. "I will have this trophy in my bedroom. It is a dream. [I have] the confidence I am playing well and this comes when I play at the right level. Hopefully, I will keep playing like this."

The Spanish superstar earned his 49th career title and 35th on his beloved clay surface. It's now onto Paris, where he will be the overwhelming favorite for a third straight French Open championship and seventh title in eight years.

Nadal avenged a loss to Djokovic in the final of this event last year and improved to 18-14 against the Serb, who had won seven straight meetings -- including this year's Australian Open final -- before a 6-3, 6-1 drubbing in Monte Carlo.

Monday's match, which was pushed back from Sunday because of rain and a nearly three-hour women's final between Maria Sharapova and Li Na, wasn't as one- sided as the final in Monte Carlo.

The two traded early breaks Monday and an overruled call in the 10th game may have turned the tide for Nadal.

A line judge called Djokovic's shot out, but it was correctly changed by the umpire and the point had to be replayed. If it was initially ruled correctly, Djokovic would have had a 40-15 lead against Nadal's serve with a pair of set points. Instead, Nadal won the replayed point and the game, then picked up a second break for a 6-5 lead before an easy hold to claim the opening set.

Nadal carried the momentum into the next game and broke serve to start the second set. Djokovic followed by winning the first three points against Nadal's serve in the next game, but couldn't get a fourth as Nadal fought right back and won the game.

Djokovic failed to convert a pair of break opportunities in Nadal's next service game. Nadal, in fact, saved all six break points against his serve in the second set and converted each of his two against Djokovic.

The second break chance for Nadal in the second set came on championship point, when Djokovic committed a double fault to end the two-hour, 20-minute match.

"He is always the favorite, even if I win against him seven times; he is the best player in the world on this surface," Djokovic said. "I think that the match today was quite close, even if he won in straight sets. If you don't use the opportunities against Rafa he gets momentum. I made a lot of errors, which should not happen when you play against Nadal. I will go to Paris with confidence and I played a great week."

Nadal and Djokovic have combined for the last eight Italian Masters titles. Djokovic also won in 2008, while Nadal won three straight from 2005-07 and took back-to-back crowns in 2009-10. The 2009 championship also came at Djokovic's expense.

Monday's win will send Nadal back to No. 2 in the rankings. He fell to third last week, behind Roger Federer, after the Swiss star won the Madrid crown.

Nadal also earned his 21st career Masters crown, snapping a tie created by Federer last week in Madrid. The 10-time Grand Slam champ is now 35-4 all-time in clay finals and 49-21 in 70 career title matches.

Djokovic fell to 30-16 in finals, including 2-2 this year. In addition to the Australian Open and Monte Carlo title matches, he also claimed the Miami crown earlier this spring by beating Andy Murray.

The world No. 1 will be trying to win a fourth straight Grand Slam title when the French Open starts on Sunday. He was a semifinal loser to Federer last year in Paris, then went on to beat Nadal in the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before also earning a second straight Australian Open championship in January.

05/21 11:48:57 ET