ROME -- Novak Djokovic continued his recent mastery over top-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain with a 6-4, 6-4 win in the Italian Open final Sunday that stretched the Serbian's unbeaten start to the year to 37 matches.
The second-ranked Djokovic has beaten Nadal in all four finals they've played this year and defeated Nadal for the first time on clay in last week's Madrid Open final.
Djokovic has now become the first player to beat Nadal on clay twice in the same year, a feat that comes exactly a week before the French Open starts.
Djokovic's edge over Nadal could enable him to overtake his rival for the No. 1 ranking the week after Roland Garros.
Djokovic's streak this year trails only John McEnroe's 42-0 start in 1984. Overall, Djokovic has won 39 consecutive matches stretching back to Serbia's Davis Cup triumph in December, sixth best in the Open era, seven behind Guillermo Vilas' record set in 1977.
Earlier, Russian Maria Sharapova stormed to a 6-2, 6-4 win over Australian Sam Stosur in the woman's final for the biggest clay-court title of her career.
After a three-hour rain delay, the seventh-seeded Sharapova won the opening four games, then cruised from there to follow up her victory over top-ranked Dane Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals.
Sharapova is a three-time Grand Slam winner and Roland Garros remains the only major title she hasn't won. She'll now be among the favourites in Paris.
"This is just the beginning of many things to come. This is just the start of everything," Sharapova said during the trophy presentation.
Nadal had won this tournament five of the past six years and entered the final with a 31-1 record in Rome. His only previous loss came to countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero in his opening round three years ago.
Djokovic attributed his win in Madrid partly to the altitude and faster conditions there. The conditions at the Foro Italico are more similar to those in Paris, perhaps making this victory more meaningful.
Djokovic also had to recover from a three-hour semifinal win over Great Britain's Andy Murray that ended near midnight Saturday. Fortunately for Djokovic, the rain delay before the woman's final gave him more time to rest.
Despite the delay, nearly all of the 10,500 ticket holders were on hand for the Djokovic-Nadal match, and with Italy located geographically in between Spain and Serbia both players received about equal support.
A former No. 1, Sharapova had been struggling to regain her best form ever since undergoing right shoulder surgery in October, 2008 -- which caused her to miss 10 months of action.
She won her last title in Strasbourg, France, a year ago.
With her fiancee, New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic, watching from the stands, Sharapova didn't drop a set all week. She needed just one hour 23 minutes to beat Stosur.
"She is someone that knows this surface really well and I expected a really tough match today," Sharapova said. "I was really ready to fight from the start and I stepped in and tried to take time away (from her)."
-- The Associated Press