Relentless Nadal on another roll as Ferrer succumbs to inevitable

Clay-court master wins second consecutive title to establish himself as hot favourite for French Open

There are times when mere humans wonder whether they will ever resist Rafael Nadal's relentless onslaught, which was why David Ferrer must have welcomed assistance from above as he faced his fellow Spaniard in the final of the Rome Masters here yesterday.

Within moments of Ferrer dropping serve to give Nadal a 7-5, 2-1 lead, the heavens opened for a second time over the Foro Italico to send the players scurrying for cover. Nevertheless, the 104-minute rain break that followed served only to delay the inevitable. Nadal promptly picked up where he had left off and within 18 minutes the world No 3 had secured his fifth Rome title in the last six years, winning 7-5, 6-2. It was his 17th Masters Series title, which puts the 23-year-old one ahead of Roger Federer and level with Andre Agassi's record total.

Although by no means at his best, Nadal rarely looked in danger of not winning his second clay-court tournament of the season, having ended an 11-month title drought a fortnight earlier in Monte Carlo. No wonder he is already an odds-on favourite to regain his title at the French Open, which begins in three weeks' time.

If there has been something lacking in Nadal's attacking game here, his defence has been as solid as ever. His serve, which is generally reckoned to be one of the least effective weapons in his armoury, has also been a major strength. He dropped his serve only once over the course of the week, to Ernests Gulbis in Saturday's semi-finals. In Monte Carlo he was broken in just three of his 36 service games.

Ferrer, who beat Andy Murray in the third round and did not drop a set en route to his first Masters Series final, went into the contest having won more matches (29) than any other player on the main tour this year. He had also played the most matches on clay, with just three defeats in his 26 outings.

The first all-Spanish final in the tournament's history began in light drizzle and was interrupted for 56 minutes by heavier rain with the score at 4-4. Although Ferrer dictated many of the rallies, Nadal always looked the more likely to make the first breakthrough. Ferrer's speed around the court and relentless consistency can trouble the best, but he did not have the weight of shot to hurt Nadal in the way that Gulbis had 24 hours earlier.

Ferrer saved five break points before two missed forehands handed Nadal the first break of serve in the 11th game. Nevertheless, the world No 17 had his chances. He was within two points of taking the first set when Nadal fluffed a backhand and a forehand to go 0-30 down when serving at 4-5 and had a point for 6-6, only for Nadal to see out the set with two service winners and a volley at the end of a well-constructed rally.

The second set started in similar fashion. Ferrer saved two break points in the first game and three more in the third before finally cracking under Nadal's relentless pressure, hitting a backhand long. Once again the rain intervened, but when they emerged for a third time Nadal wasted no time wrapping up business. He broke again to lead 5-2 before serving out for his victory.

* Justine Henin beat Australia's Samantha Stosur in the final of the Stuttgart indoor tournament yesterday for her first title since her comeback. It was the Belgian's first tournament on clay, her favoured surface on which she has won four French Open titles, since she ended her 19-month self-imposed exile at the start of the year.

* Naomi Cavaday, the British No 4, claimed the first clay-court title of her career and her first tournament victory for three years when she won the $25,000 International Tennis Federation event in Brescia, Italy. The world No 194 came from behind in both sets to beat the Czech Republic's Andrea Hlavackova, the second seed, 6-2, 6-4.

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