|Nadal has won his second title in two weeks after a long drought [AFP]
Rafael Nadal maintained his focus through two rain delays to beat fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 7-5 6-2 and claim his fifth Rome Masters title in six years.
Having won the Monte Carlo Masters two weeks ago to end an 11-month title drought, Nadal improved to 10-0 on clay this year and provided another signal that he is back to dominating on his preferred surface after a series of injuries.
In contrast to his emotional celebration in Monte Carlo, Nadal was comparatively subdued upon winning on Sunday, simply raising his hands over his head and letting out a big smile before calmly walking to the net to shake hands with Ferrer.
Nadal showed no sign of fatigue after pulling out a long, three-set win over Ernests Gulbis in the semi-finals on Saturday.
The win enabled Nadal to match Andre Agassi's record of 17 Masters Series titles.
Agassi achieved the feat at the age of 34, though, while Nadal is only 23.
Top-ranked Roger Federer, who was beaten in an upset by Gulbis in the second round, is second with 16 Masters Series titles.
This tournament is an important warmup for the French Open, which starts on May 23.
Nadal won four consecutive titles at Roland Garros before being stunned by Robin Soderling in the fourth round last year in Paris.
Nadal's only loss in Rome came against fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero in the opening round two years ago, when he was slowed by a foot blister.
No other player has won more than three titles at the Foro Italico.
Nadal has now won his last seven meetings with Ferrer, who was playing the first Masters Series final of his career.
Before a bundled-up crowd of 10,500 inside the tournament's new stadium, both players had to deal with a wet and slippery court, as well as swirling winds.
Nadal applied pressure from the start. And at 2-2 in the first set, Ferrer had to save five break points with some uncharacteristic attacking play, going for outright winners to the corners.
Midway through the first set, Nadal won a spectacular point that included a behind-the-back shot from Ferrer.
The match was suspended for an hour due to rain with Ferrer serving at 4-4 in the first set.
Ferrer maintained his concentration when the players came back out and held serve to take a 5-4 lead. But Nadal broke at his next opportunity when Ferrer's forehand clipped the top of the net to end a long rally.
Nadal didn't face a break point until he served for the first set, and he saved it with a well-positioned serve out wide that Ferrer returned long.
On the next point, Nadal moved Ferrer from corner to corner and then rushed forward to put away an easy volley.
On his first set point, Nadal hit another solid first serve and Ferrer's reply sailed long.
Nadal broke again in the third game of the second set, and the match was then suspended again for 1 hour, 45 minutes – causing many fans to head home.
When the players came out again, Ferrer hit a costly double fault and followed that with a loose forehand wide to hand Nadal another break and let him serve out the match.
Source: Associated Press