- Internazionali BNL d'Italia
Nadal back to No. 2 after sixth Rome title
Rafael Nadal underlined his status as red-hot favourite to win a seventh French Open title as he warmed up for Roland Garros with victory over Novak Djokovic in the Internazionali BNL d'Italia final.
Nadal avenged last year's defeat to Djokovic to claim a sixth title in Rome with a 7-5 6-3 victory on Monday, securing his return to world No. 2 in the process.
After rain on Sunday forced the match to be postponed, Nadal gained a confidence-boosting win over the world No. 1 to claim an 18th win from 32 career meetings.
Nadal had won their last encounter, in the final at the Monte Carlo Masters last month, but Djokovic had been some way off his best after learning of the death of his grandfather earlier in the week. Nadal had previously lost seven consecutive matches to Djokovic, including three grand slam finals.
But there was no mistaking Nadal's dominance at the Foro Italico as he capitalised on an error-strewn performance from Djokovic to ensure he goes to Paris as the man to beat.
Nadal, who already had two clay titles to his name this season after victories in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, came out firing, and a big forehand saw him presented with two break points, and it was only some superb defence from Djokovic that prevented the Spaniard getting off to an ideal start.
Djokovic was forced to fend off another break point after a wayward smash at the net, but a risky drop shot did not go unpunished as Nadal pounced to take a 3-2 lead.
That setback seemed to spur Djokovic into action, and the Serb rallied immediately, breaking straight back before a dominant service game, sending his opponent scampering around the court to take a 4-3 lead.
But as the pair exchanged blows from the baseline, Djokovic was left to rue 24 unforced errors in the opening set as Nadal grabbed a late break after a thrilling exchange at the net before serving out for the set.
And he tightened his grip on the match, snatching an early break in the second before fending off four break points to take a 2-0 lead.
Djokovic toiled, often dominating rallies but could not find the killer blow, netting a forehand on break point when presented with a way back into the match as 41 unforced errors ultimately proved costly.
And Nadal held his nerve to see out victory in two hours and 20 minutes to leapfrog Roger Federer in the world rankings after he was overtaken by the Swiss following his Madrid Open win last week.