King Nadal's crown slipping after Djokovic's sack of Rome
The French Open has become a virtual procession for Rafael Nadal in recent years but the king of clay will head to Paris this week with increasing doubts about his ability to hold on to his crown.
Nadal's 4-6 6-3 6-3 defeat by Novak Djokovic in the final of the Rome Masters here yesterday means that for the first time in 10 years he will go to Roland Garros having failed to win at least two European clay-court titles.
It is also the first time since 2004 that Nadal has lost three clay-court matches in a single year, the Spaniard having also lost to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro in the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona respectively.
Nadal will still be world No 1 when the French Open starts in six days' time, but Djokovic, who lost the top spot in the autumn, is gradually hunting him down.
Djokovic made a slow start and hurled his racket to the floor in disgust after dropping serve for the second time in a row to go 4-1 down.
An angry Djokovic, however, can be a dangerous one. The world No 2 suddenly upped his game.
When Djokovic reduced the arrears to 4-3 and then had Nadal at 15-40 on the Spaniard's serve it seemed that he might even turn the opening set around, but the world No 1 hung on to draw first blood.
By now, however, Djokovic had the wind in his sails and he tore through the second set in 44 minutes. Djokovic broke in the second game with a stunning forehand cross-court winner and made up for a loose game at 3-1 by breaking back immediately thanks to Nadal's double-fault.
Having served out for the second set, Djokovic quickly took control of the decider, breaking to 15 in the opening game. The Serb failed to take two break points for a 3-0 lead and might have been regretting it when Nadal levelled at 3-3, but he broke back immediately.
Nadal won just 54pc of the points when his first serve found the target and was broken for the sixth and final time when he hit a backhand long at 3-5. For the first time in many a year, the world No 1 will go into his favourite Grand Slam tournament with serious doubts over his chances.
Djokovic, not surprisingly was upbeat afterwards: "It's a special moment to win this tournament. I want to thank my team who give me tons of support throughout my career. None of this would be possible without them." (© Independent News Service)