Entering his second Masters 1000 tournament after the maiden crown at that series in Miami, Novak Djokovic made a winning start in Rome 2007. World no. 5 defeated Robin Soderling 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, raising his level in sets two and three and prevailing in the pivotal moments to leave the Swede behind and advance into the next round.
Novak came to Rome after winning the fifth ATP title in Estoril, feeling tired but confident in his tennis and the abilities to fight for the crown in Rome, Hamburg and Paris. After beating Soderling, Novak mentioned his self-belief following that success in Miami when he defeated Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
In the quarters, Djokovic secured his first triumph over Rafa, beating the Spaniard 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 37 minutes. Novak delivered an incredible performance on the second serve, taking 15 out of 20 points and repelling four out of five break chances to keep the pressure on Nadal's side.
Unlike in Indian Wells a week earlier, Rafa couldn't follow the rival's pace behind the initial shot, struggling on the second serve and getting broken three times from seven chances offered to Novak. They stayed close to each other in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, with Djokovic having the upper hand in the mid-range and more extended exchanges, leaving Rafa behind after hitting more winners than unforced errors.
After three great holds on both sides, Novak forced a mistake from Rafa in the fourth game to open a 3-1 gap, gathering momentum before suffering a break at 15 in the very next game when his forehand landed long. Djokovic's forehand worked much better in the next game, forcing another error from Nadal to secure the second straight break and forge another advantage.
Novak delivered a hold at love with a service winner to cement the lead, wrapping up the set with an incredible volley in the ninth game for a 6-3.
At 1-1 in the second set, Nadal survived three break chances and earned a break opportunity in the next one with a volley winner.
Novak dismissed it with a powerful forehand, leveling the score at 2-2 with a volley winner. Nadal netted a slice backhand in the fifth game to get broken, sending the younger opponent in front and allowing Djokovic to gain a 4-2 lead with a hold at love a few minutes later.
Serving for the victory at 5-4, Novak passed the most robust possible test, fending off three break chances with strong and aggressive hitting, sealing the deal with an ace to notch the first triumph over Nadal. "I think this has been my highest level in a career.
Winning Miami gave me a lot of motivation for the big tournaments, beating Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. I have proved to myself and everyone that I have the quality to remain at the top. I'm world no. 5 at the moment and that brings a lot of pressure and expectations. Still, I'm trying not to think about that," Novak Djokovic said.