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, fixing that next time around in Miami to claim the first Masters 1000 crown.
Novak headed to Rome with 18 wins in the last 20 encounters, making 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 who 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, dropping only 13 points in eight service games and fending 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, dropping 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 small advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, completely outplaying Novak in the more extended exchanges to remain on the title course.
The better-ranked player grabbed a break in the first game following a forehand error from Djokovic, holding 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, denied by Djokovic who repelled three break points to remain within one break deficit.
At 3-2, Rafa saved the only break point he faced, moving 5-2 in front with a break at 15 and clinching 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, only to play a loose service game and sent Rafa in front after a wild forehand.
The defending champion confirmed a break with a forehand winner, forging a 5-3 lead and crossing the finish line with a break at love in game nine. After the encounter, Djokovic said he was pleased how he performed, aware 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 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.