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Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal in Rome Masters final

Novak Djokovic continued his domination over world No 1 Rafael Nadal ahead of the French Open by claiming the Rome Masters crown 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday as he stretched his unbeaten run this year to 37 matches.

Smashing: Novak Djokovic’s remarkable run of victories continued when he beat Rafael Nadal in the final of the Rome Masters

The Serb, who defeated Nadal for the first time on clay in the Madrid Open final last weekend, won his seventh consecutive title by flattening the five-times champion on the bigger points in another brutal duel between the two gladiators.

“It’s really beautiful to be here, to play against a great champion like Rafa in this stadium which is the coliseum of tennis. This place is special,” Djokovic said in a courtside interview as he stood just five matches short of equalling John McEnroe’s 42-0 start record.

Nadal, who had not been beaten on clay for almost two years until last Sunday, was magnanimous in defeat and embraced his conqueror as the players received a standing ovation from the crowd.

“Compliments to Novak for his splendid performance and the season he is having,” said Nadal, who had almost pulled out before the tournament started due to illness.

A rain-delayed start gave Djokovic a few extra hours to recover from Friday’s draining three-hour semi-final win over Andy Murray, but there were ominous signs in the third game that the world number two might still be weary as he dinked a dropshot that barely reached the bottom of the net.

The Serbian recovered though, crashing a forehand down the line to take the game. Nadal remained unruffled and whizzed around the court to bring an excited Foro Italico crowd to their feet with a whipped forehand to level at 3-3.

After Nadal produced another superb running forehand, Djokovic conjured an incredible angle with a whipped forehand to hold serve.

In the next game, Djokovic won a marathon point at 15-all and with the tension palpable, the Spaniard erred twice more – floating a forehand long before mis-hitting another high into the Rome sky to hand the Serb the first break at 5-3.

He faltered on his first attempt to serve out the set, surrendering the advantage by netting the ball following another exhausing rally, but broke Nadal again with a brilliant backhand crosscourt winner to take the set.

An anxious-looking Nadal, who will be looking to win his sixth French Open trophy when the claycourt grand slam begins next Sunday, fought back from 2-0 down in a fluctuating second set before Djokovic underlined his mental toughness, forcing the Spaniard into errors to break in the ninth game.

Djokovic saw his first three match points go begging – thanks to two backhand errors and an unreturnable serve from Nadal – but he made no mistake on the fourth.

After a furious exchange which featured two net cords, Djokovic whipped a forehand and then watched on as a charging Nadal could only roll the ball into the net to hand the world number two another memorable victory.

Djokovic promptly collapsed on to his back and let out an almighty roar to celebrate his victory.

Meanwhile, on a grey afternoon at the Foro Italico, Maria Sharapova blew kisses at the crowd on Campo Centrale after she won her first title for a year by beating Australia’s Sam Stosur 6-2, 6-4 in the women’s final. If the Siberian were to win the French Open, she would complete the career grand slam, having already won the other majors once each.

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