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Nadal wins record 4th Rome title

RAFAEL Nadal won his record fourth Rome Masters title on Sunday, beating defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6 (2), 6-2.

It's the third clay-court title in three weeks for the top-ranked Spaniard, following victories at the Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open.

"For sure it's one of the biggest wins of my career," Nadal said. "It's always incredible to win in Rome."

Nadal extended his winning streak on clay to 30 matches, stretching back to an opening-round loss to Juan Carlos Ferrero in Rome last year.

By failing to defend his title, Djokovic will lose the No. 3 ranking to Andy Murray on May 11, when last year's points drop out. The 21-year-old Serb has been No. 3 since August 2007.

Nadal broke an Open Era tie with Thomas Muster, who won Rome titles in 1990, 1995 and 1996. Jaroslav Drobny and Martin Mulligan also each won three titles before the Open Era. Chris Evert holds the women's record at the Foro Italico with five titles.

Rome is a key warmup for the French Open, which begins in three weeks. Nadal has won the last four titles at Roland Garros.

Djokovic performed an imitation of Nadal during the trophy presentation, rolling his sleeves up, pulling his shorts down slightly and reaching down to arrange his socks as Nadal does before every point.

Djokovic led 23-19 in winners but committed 40 unforced errors to Nadal's 22, mostly with his backhand.

Nadal improved his Rome record to 22-1. He improved his tour-best record to 38-3 this year, winning five of the eight tournaments he's entered.

It was Nadal's 15th Masters Series title, one more than Roger Federer and two shy of Andre Agassi's record of 17.

Safina upset

In Stuttgart, Germany, Svetlana Kuznetsova upset top-ranked Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-3 on Sunday to win the Porsche Grand Prix and capture her first WTA title since September 2007.

Safina became No. 1 two weeks ago but failed to win her first tournament as the top-ranked player in the world.

Kuznetsova, the 2004 US Open champion who is now ranked No. 9, had lost her last six finals, although she had not made another one this year before Stuttgart. But she was in command in Sunday's all-Russian showdown with her aggressive, big-hitting game and won on her third match point with an overhead smash.

"It's been a while. It's great to be here and win," Kuznetsova said before taking a spin on the court in a white Porsche convertible sports car that she won as first prize. "It was a bit scary but I will definitely keep it. It's special."

Kuznetsova won the Stuttgart event in her fifth try.


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