Novak Djokovic maintained his unbeaten record in 2011 and landed his seventh title in an already astonishing year by defeating Rafael Nadal in the final of the Rome Masters this evening.
The Serbian has now won 39 consecutive matches – 37 this year – and will head to Roland Garros for the French Open in a week’s time as overwhelming favourite to add to the Australian Open crown he claimed in January.
He beat Nadal 6-4 6-4 today.
Nadal fought valiantly but he has now lost in four finals this year to Djokovic - in Indian Wells, Miami and, last week, on clay in Madrid, as well as Rome.
In a final of astonishing quality, the two players traded heavy groundstrokes from the back of the court with little to separate the top two in the world.
But it was Djokovic who struck first to break for a 5-3 lead when the Spaniard shanked a backhand long.
Nadal struck back immediately but he could not stave off Djokovic’s charge and the Serbian broke again to wrap up the set.
The momentum continued in the second with Djokovic claiming the Nadal serve to go 2-0 up.
But again he conceded the break in the next game as Nadal, a five-time winner at the Foro Italico, hit back as he tried to retain the title he had won in the past two years.
The match remained on serve until 4-5 on the Nadal delivery.
Djokovic upped his game to move 40-0 up and, after Nadal had saved the first three match points, the Serbian won it on his fourth by putting away a forehand when a Nadal groundstroke sat up nicely after hitting the net.
Djokovic is now just seven wins away from matching the longest winning streak in ATP Tour history, a run of 46 consecutive victories achieved by Guillermo Vilas in 1977.
In the women’s event, Maria Sharapova secured the biggest clay-court title of her career with a straight-sets victory over Sam Stosur.
After a three-hour delay due to rain in Rome, Sharapova proved too powerful from the back of the court as she claimed a 6-2 6-4 win over last year’s French Open finalist.
Australian Stosur’s serve was broken five times in all as she fell to 0-8 in her career record against the Russian former world number one.
“I’m so happy to be the champion,” said Sharapova, who recorded her 23rd title.
“It means so much to me to add this title to the ones I already have.
“Rome is such a special place and I’ve dreamed of holding up this trophy.
“There are a lot of tournaments coming up, and this is a great start to everything. I can’t wait to be back next year.”