Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal to win Rome Masters
Novak Djokovic continued his remarkable unbeaten run with victory over Rafael Nadal in the final of the Rome Masters.
The Serb, who was pushed all the way by Andy Murray in Saturday's semi-final, played some superb tennis to triumph 6-4 6-4 and make it 37 wins this year - 39 in total.
He looked comfortable and never allowed Nadal, a five-time title winner in Rome, to take the initiative.
Nadal was forced into doing most of the chasing and looked second-best.
The Serb is now closing in on Guillermo Vilas's record of 46 consecutive wins, set in 1977.
Djokovic, who won the Australian Open in January, can add Rome to a list of titles won in 2011 that also includes titles in Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade and Madrid.
He had beaten Nadal in three finals already this year - in Madrid, Miami and Indian Wells - but there was still room for some breath-taking tennis at times as he recorded a second straight win on clay over Nadal, the king of the surface.
Djokovic showed few effects from Saturday's marathon three-set win over Murray and both players thrilled the crowd from the start with the accuracy of their hitting.
It was Djokovic who earned the first break points of the game in the eighth game and a mis-hit by Nadal put the Serb 5-3 ahead.
It left him serving for the set but a forehand error handed Nadal two break points and he seized the opportunity to break straight back.
But in another twist, Djokovic took the game on again and earned a first set point with some sublime tennis and converted it with a strong cross-court backhand.
A sliced backhand by Nadal, which drifted narrowly wide, helped give a buoyant Djokovic a 2-0 lead in the second set.
But the Spaniard broke straight back and then dug deep to make it 2-2 and there was not much between the world's top two players.
“Whatever the conditions I needed to step into the court and take chances and be aggressive.”
Nadal started to look more aggressive but each time he threatened, Djokovic responded and with the crowd thrilled by the skills on show, he held serve to eventually move 5-4 ahead.
With victory in his sights, Djokovic brought up three match points on the Nadal serve.
The Spaniard stood firm and saved all three to give him a glimmer of hope but when Djokovic had a fourth chance he made no mistake.
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 which he greeted with his usual enthusiastic celebrations.
"I'm amazed with they way I'm playing, especially today given the circumstances and the conditon I was in," Djokovic said afterwards.
"I played three hours yesterday against a player [Andy Murray] who was playing great, I was on the verge of losing that match and I came back.
"Whatever the conditions I needed to step into the court and take chances and be aggressive. That's really the only way against Nadal on clay.
"I was able to perform maybe my best play on clay and I beat the number one in the world on clay. It's amazing, I'm going to enjoy this victory but then I need to get ready for Roland Garros."
Nadal said he simply had to pay tribute to the winner.
"He's doing amazing things, he's very tough mentally and physically," said the Spaniard.
"Every week he's winning matches, he's playing fantastically, he's doing a lot of things very well and he has a lot of confidence.
"I was happy with the way I [played] today. I didn't hit the ball [badly] but it seems like he's always in a better position.
"I played more aggressive than one week ago. I didn't play all defensive like in Madrid."