Nadal takes a boost into Paris after beating Djokovic again

 

With six French Open titles already under his belt you would have thought that Rafael Nadal hardly needed a morale-booster going into Roland Garros, but the 25-year-old Spaniard struck a significant psychological blow with his 7-5, 6-3 victory over Novak Djokovic in the delayed final of the Rome Masters yesterday.

Nadal, who in winning his sixth title in the Foro Italico reclaimed the world No 2 ranking from Roger Federer, had lost to Djokovic in seven successive finals – including three Grand Slam tournaments – between March 2011 and January 2012, but this was his second victory in a row over the Serb, who celebrates his 25th birthday today.

If Djokovic's below-par performance in losing to Nadal in Monte Carlo last month could be explained by his emotional turmoil following the death of his grandfather, the latest of their 32 meetings (of which the Spaniard has now won 18) was contested on an even playing field, even if the world No 1 had the worst of some bad bounces in the closing stages.

Rome's red clay, as opposed to the controversial blue surface in Madrid on which Nadal and Djokovic have vowed not to return next year, is the perfect preparation for the French Open, where the scene could hardly be better set for another showdown between the world's top players.

When the tournament starts on Sunday, Djokovic will be aiming to become the first man to hold all four Grand Slam titles for 43 years, Nadal will be going for his seventh Roland Garros triumph in eight years and Federer – who has not won a Grand Slam tournament for 28 months – will continue his quest to regain the world No 1 ranking.

Djokovic and Nadal will be the top two seeds, meaning that Federer, and Andy Murray for that matter, would probably have to beat the world's top two players to win the title.

The Rome final had been held over by a day because of rain and when the two men finally got on court it was bathed in glorious sunshine. The pattern of the match was quickly established. Nadal defended with all his usual athleticism and willpower, forcing his opponent to hit the extra shot, and struck the ball consistently well, even if he did not quite match the heights he had scaled in his previous two matches.

Djokovic always tried to be aggressive and kept putting himself into positions of strength, but the Serb made too many mistakes – 41 unforced errors, compared with Nadal's 21 – in trying to force the issue. When Nadal broke to lead 6-5, Djokovic smashed his racket on a net post in frustration.

In the 202 clay-court matches in which Nadal has won the first set, he has gone on to lose the match only twice. The Spaniard quickly took control of the second set, winning his fifth game in a row to lead 2-0.

Djokovic had six break points in the second set but took none of them and Nadal clinched the match when the Serb hit a double fault. It was Nadal's 35th clay-court title and his 49th in total. He has now won 21 Masters Series finals, more than any other player.

Nadal refused afterwards to read any long-term significance into the victory. "The important thing is that I won my sixth title here," he said. "That's something that for me is totally unexpected, a real dream.

"The confidence is because I am playing well. The confidence comes when you are playing at the right level, which I think I am doing. Hopefully I will keep playing like this, being aggressive, and hopefully I will be competitive in the next tournaments too."

The former world No 4, Robin Soderling, who has been suffering from glandular fever, said yesterday that he would miss the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympics but hoped to resume his career eventually. The Swede has not played competitively since last July.

Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions