Novak Djokovic was one of the players to beat in the first half of 2007, winning three ATP titles ahead of Roland Garros. The young Serb lost in the final in Indian Wells to Rafael Nadal and fixed that next time around in Miami to claim the first Masters 1000 crown at 19.
Novak headed to Rome with 18 wins in the last 20 encounters and made a solid start following triumphs over Robin Soderling and Marcos Baghdatis. In the quarter-final, he faced an ultimate challenge in the defending champion Rafael Nadal.
The Spaniard toppled him 6-2, 6-3 after an hour and 41 minutes of a grueling battle. It was the third victory for Rafa over Novak in four encounters. He dropped only 13 points in eight service games and fended off the only break point offered to Djokovic to mount the pressure on the other side of the net.
Novak served at 72%, but that brought him nothing against the fiercest possible rival on clay, giving away half of the points in his games and suffering four breaks from 12 chances that Nadal created. The Spaniard had 30 winners and ten unforced errors, controlling the pace and doing everything right.
He had a slight advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes and completely outplayed Novak in the more extended exchanges to remain on the title course. The better-ranked player grabbed a break in the first game following Djokovic's forehand error and held at 15 to increase the lead and settle into a nice rhythm.
Novak had to dig deep in the third game to avoid another break, fending off four break chances and bringing it home with a smash winner to add his name on the scoreboard. Dominating every segment of the game, Nadal held at love in game four and created more opportunities on the return a few minutes later.
Novak Djokovic lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2007 Rome quarter-final.
Djokovic denied them and repelled three break points to remain within one break deficit. At 3-2, Rafa saved the only break point he faced, moved 5-2 in front with a break at 15 and clinched the opener in the next game when Novak netted a forehand.
Djokovic was there to fight in the opening six games of the second set before playing a loose service game that sent Rafa in front. The defending champion confirmed a break with a forehand winner to forge 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, aware that he needed 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 best player in the world. 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.