Novak Djokovic was the player on a mission in the opening months of the 2007 season, winning three ATP titles and entering the top-5 for the first time. Novak claimed the first notable title in Miami following victories over Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, hoping for another strong run during the clay swing.
After an early exit in Monte Carlo, Djokovic took a couple of days off, recharged batteries and won the third title of the season in Estoril. Competing in Rome a week later, Novak defeated Robin Soderling and Marcos Baghdatis to reach the quarters, testing his skills against the defending champion Rafael Nadal.
The king of clay proved to be too strong for Novak and scored a 6-2, 6-3 victory in an hour and 41 minutes to extend his winning streak on his beloved surface. It was the third victory for Rafa over Novak in four matches, avenging the Miami defeat in the same round.
Nadal dropped 13 points in eight service games, saving the only break point offered to Djokovic and keeping the pressure on the Serb. Novak landed 72% of the first serve in, but that wasn't enough to keep him safe, dropping half of the points behind the initial shot and suffering four breaks from 12 chances that Nadal created.
The Spaniard fired 30 winners and ten unforced errors and controlled the pace to march into the last four. Rafa had a slight advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes and overpowered Novak in the more extended exchanges to seal the deal in style.
Novak Djokovic spoke about Rafael Nadal after losing to the Spaniard in Rome 2007.
"I knew Rafael Nadal is the best player on clay; I was aware of that. I was trying to go out there and be aggressive and patient at the same time, which is not easy.
Balls you can't get back on hard are not that tough to handle on clay, and he feels comfortable on this surface. Despite the loss, I'm satisfied with how I played today; I have enough time to improve. I'm always learning something new when I play against the rivals from the top.
Every match brings a unique experience. Today I saw what I have to do to perform better in the next one and maybe beat Rafa. It's challenging to compete against him on clay. I will practice more and try to defeat him next time.
I'm happy with my current level on clay; I won the title in Estoril and two tough matches here in Rome before facing Rafa. I went for drop shots today, trying to put him out of the comfort zone. You have to try something new and be at 100% physically to stand a chance against him," Novak Djokovic said.