Novak Djokovic became the third-strongest link on the ATP Tour in 2007 behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Learning fast, Novak lost the Indian Wells final to Rafael Nadal in straight sets and served revenge in the Miami quarter-final to celebrate the first triumph over the Spaniard.
Djokovic had 18 wins in the previous 20 encounters ahead of Rome, and he made a good start at Foro Italico after beating Robin Soderling and Marcos Baghdatis. Facing Nadal for the third time in two months in the quarters, Novak suffered a 6-2, 6-3 loss after an hour and 41 minutes of a grueling battle.
Rafa dropped 13 points in eight service games and saved a lone break chance to mount the pressure on the other side. Novak served at 72%, but that brought him nothing against the most dangerous rival on clay, dropping half of the points in his games and suffering four breaks from 12 chances offered to Rafa.
The Spaniard had 30 winners and ten unforced errors and controlled the pace to bring the victory home in style. He had a slight advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes and completely outplayed Novak in the more extended exchanges to sail into the semis.
The better-ranked player grabbed a break in the first game following Djokovic's forehand error and held at 15 to settle into a nice rhythm. Novak had to dig deep in the third game to avoid another setback, fending off four break chances to add his name on the scoreboard.
Nadal held at love in game four and created more opportunities on the return a few minutes later. Still, Djokovic repelled three break points to remain within one break deficit.
Novak Djokovic lost to Rafael Nadal in straight sets in Rome 2007.
At 3-2, Rafa saved the only break point and moved 5-2 in front with a break at 15 before clinching the opener in the next game.
Djokovic fought stronger in the second set's opening six games before playing a loose service game and send Rafa in front after a wild forehand. The defending champion confirmed the break with a forehand winner, forged a 5-3 lead and crossed the finish line with a break at love in game nine.
After the encounter, Djokovic said he was pleased with how he performed, knowing that he needs a lot of experience and further improvements to challenge Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Also, he was determined to achieve that and become the world's leading player in the years to come.
"I'm not in a hurry; I'm trying to practice and focus on my career. I know that I need a lot of experience and improvements to beat Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. That's my goal, to become the world's best player.
I'm only 20, and I hope to play for ten or 15 years. I will try to improve my volley and use the opportunities at the net. My groundstrokes are powerful and aggressive, but I have to rush to the net more and finish the points on my terms. Also, I have to improve my serve," Novak Djokovic said.