ROME (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal enjoyed the perfect fillip ahead of his French Open defense with a commanding 7-5 6-3 victory over world number one Novak Djokovic in the delayed Rome Masters final on Monday.
Beaten surprisingly early on Madrid's blue clay earlier this month, the 25-year-old Mallorcan was at his destructive best to claim the title in the Italian capital for the sixth time.
In doing so he will rise back to second in the world rankings after being overtaken by Roger Federer last week.
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 in the Foro Italico as the sun 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 defenses to dig him out of trouble.
The Spaniard did draw first blood when he punished a dreadful Djokovic drop shot in the fifth game to move ahead but he immediately handed the service break back with a lackluster game culminating in a forehand error.
Djokovic briefly switched up a gear and began to dominate the rallies but was broken again at 5-5 after a volleying exchange and Nadal served out a 76-minute opener.
Nadal made it five games in a row when he moved 2-0 ahead in the second set and although Djokovic hung on grimly, threatening to break back in the fourth game only to mess up an easy smash, he stayed in control.
Two bad bounces and a double-fault on match point helped Nadal close it out and improve his career head-to-head record over the Serb to 18-14.
(Writing by Martyn Herman, editing by Justin Palmer)