Rafael Nadal of Spain poses with the trophy after winning his men's singles final match against Novak Djokovic (R) of Serbia at the Rome Masters tennis tournament in Rome, May 21, 2012.
ROME - Rafa Nadal enjoyed the perfect fillip ahead of his French Open defence by downing world number one Novak Djokovic 7-5 6-3 in the delayed Rome Masters final on Monday, saving his most impressive display of the tournament to last.
Beaten surprisingly early on Madrid's blue clay earlier this month, the 25-year-old Spaniard has been back to his destructive best on the red dirt at the Foro Italico and blew away his one-time bogeyman.
Both players refused to budge an inch in a brutal 76-minute opener but Serb Djokovic, who memorably beat Nadal in straight sets in last year's final, faded and the match ended in anti-climax when he double-faulted to gift Nadal a record sixth Rome title.
"I am happy that I won in Rome without losing a set against the best players in the world like (Tomas) Berdych and (David) Ferrer and Djokovic," Nadal said.
"I will have this trophy in my bedroom. It is a dream. I have confidence I am playing well and this comes when I play at the right level. Hopefully I will keep playing like this."
Rafael Nadal of Spain returns the ball to Novak Djokovic of Serbia during their men's singles final match at the Rome Masters tennis tournament in Rome, May 21, 2012.
Six-times French Open champion Nadal's victory means he will rise back to second in the world rankings after being overtaken by Roger Federer last week - a significant move ahead of Roland Garros where he will now definitely be in the opposite half of the draw to Djokovic.
The match, the 32nd between the pair, had been postponed by rain on Sunday, but both players came out firing in front of a healthy crowd as the sun finally returned.
Nadal went immediately on the attack, carving out two break points in Djokovic's opening service game only for the elastic-limbed Serb's defences to dig him out of trouble.
Djokovic suffered with a couple of bad bounces as he served to stay in the match and the deflated 25-year-old double-faulted to end the contest and hand Nadal a 21st Masters Series title to move ahead of the record of 20 he shared with Federer.
"I think that the match today was quite close, even if he won in straight sets," Djokovic said. "If you don't use the opportunities against Rafa he gets momentum.
"But I go to Paris with confidence."
With the French Open and Wimbledon looming, Nadal has also regained his old supremacy over the man who took his No 1 ranking last year and who had beaten him seven times in a row before the sequence ended in Monte Carlo last month.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns the ball to Rafael Nadal of Spain during their final match at the Rome Masters tennis tournament, May 21, 2012.
Rafael Nadal of Spain poses with the trophy after winning his men's singles final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia at the Rome Masters tennis tournament in Rome, May 21, 2012.