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Tennis: Nadal survives shaky show as Djokovic steps closer to top of the world

So Rome is still standing, as is Rafael Nadal. On an afternoon when an estimated fifth of all Romans had left the city for the beach or the country, supposedly worried by an earthquake prediction made by a seismologist in 1915.

On the day that was supposed to bring "the big one", an Italian qualifier ranked 148 in the world gave Nadal the heebie-jeebies.

In the end, the earth was not shaken at the Foro Italico -- or anywhere else across Rome -- as Paolo Lorenzi (29) from Siena, who took the opening set, did not go on to complete what would have been one of the greatest upsets of modern times.

Lorenzi had the rare pleasure of hearing his name chanted around Campo Centrale. The reality, though, was that Nadal was largely beating himself for the best part of the first two sets, as this was a very ordinary performance by Majorca's world No 1.


That Nadal ripped through the third set for a 6-7 6-4 6-0 victory should not mask the fact that he could easily have gone out in the second round, having had a bye through the first.

When Nadal lost to Novak Djokovic in last Sunday's final in Madrid, it was the first time he had been beaten on clay for a couple of years, yet there was something altogether more astonishing about this match, as for a long time it seemed as though he had unlearned everything he had ever known about clay-court tennis.

"It would be impossible for me to play any worse," said Nadal, champion in Rome for five of the last six seasons. "I was anxious, I felt slow.

"There is a big difference between Rome and Madrid. There, you are playing at altitude and the ball is quicker. Losing the final also makes it more difficult because you arrive sadder."

Djokovic, who brushed aside Polish qualifier Lukasz Kubot 6-0 6-3 to take his undefeated run this season to 33 matches, could leave Rome as the world No 1 if he wins the title and Nadal loses before the semi-finals. Nadal next plays fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, while Britain's Andy Murray meets Italy's Potito Starace. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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