Rafael Nadal outmuscled Roger Federer in the final of the Rome Masters to record a seventh title at the last major clay-court test before Roland Garros. On the evidence of the past two major tournaments in Madrid and the eternal city, there seems to be little to prevent the Spaniard sweeping to a staggering eighth victory on the clay of Paris next month. Few can keep pace with Nadal in the three-set format; those that can genuinely challenge over five can be counted on less than one hand.
David Ferrer ran his compatriot close in Madrid and Rome, while Ernests Gulbis came out swinging to take the first set of the quarterfinal match from Nadal 6-1. But when faced with top-10 opposition in the past three weeks the Spaniard, whose Rome win was his 41st clay title, has not been found wanting.
And all this — eight tournaments contested, eight final appearances, six titles — from a player who warned it would take some time before he was back to his best after a seven-month injury layoff.
Federer was out of sorts on Sunday, spraying 15 unforced errors around the court in the first set, which he ultimately ceded 1-6 with a routine volley placed long. A mini-rally in the second set saw the Swiss claw his way back from 1-5 to 3-5 after losing nine games on the trot, with Nadal’s serve broken for the only time in the match, but it only delayed the inevitable as the Spaniard served out on the second attempt.
Nadal now holds a 20-10 career record against Federer, with the world number four leading 14-6 in final meetings.
“It hasn’t been my day,” observed Federer. “It has been more Rafa’s day, something that happens quite often on clay.”