Rome - Novak Djokovic underlined the
growing clay-court threat of Andy Murray barely a fortnight from the French
Open after conceding defeat to the British number one in the final of the Rome
Murray, the number two seed who suffered
defeat to Djokovic in last week's Masters final in Madrid, celebrated his 29th
birthday in style with a stylish 6-3, 6-3 victory over the Serbian in one hour,
It was Murray's first title in Rome, the
third clay-court title of his career after victories on the red dirt in Munich
and Madrid last year and, more importantly, comes in timely fashion.
Murray's powerful serve had Djokovic in
trouble on more than one occasion during a rain-hit 1hr 35mins final in which
he requested, without success, a break amid fears he would slip and injure his
But Murray showed progress in other areas,
and although Djokovic heads to Paris looking to make amends for last year's
stunning defeat to Swiss Stan Wawrinka, Murray has just become a potentially
bigger obstacle to his hopes of a 12th Grand Slam title.
"I think he's using the court better
now. He has more variety in his shots from the baseline play, so obviously he
did improve," said Djokovic.
"Winning Madrid and Rome and, you
know, a couple of clay-court tournaments the last couple of years proves it.
"At the French Open, the conditions
are also a bit quicker, which he likes. He's been consistently playing well (at
Roland Garros) throughout the years, and I'm sure he's going to be very
motivated to do well again.
"He's going to come in in great form
Becoming the first Briton to win in Rome
since Patrick Hughes in 1931, it is the first time Murray's name has been added
to a trophy since the birth of his baby daughter.
He said the arrival of his daughter has
changed his outlook on life and it will ultimately "have a positive effect
on my tennis career".
"The last thing I looked at today
before I went on the court was a picture of my daughter," said Murray.
A week after his Madrid defeat, the stars
aligned for the Scot thanks to Djokovic coming in fatigued after his late
semi-final against Japan's Kei Nishikori on Saturday.
But Murray stressed: "Every time I go
up against him I know I have to play great tennis to win. Any time you beat the
best player in the world, it's a big win."
In Paris, nine-time French Open champion
Rafael Nadal and Swiss pair Wawrinka and Roger Federer will be out to make
amends for early exits in Rome.
Seven-time Rome champion Nadal was ousted in
the quarters by Djokovic, but two days after Djokovic called beating the
Spaniard on clay "the ultimate challenge", Nadal gave little
indication he fears for his prospects in Paris.
"I think I am playing well during the
whole clay court season," Nadal said after his defeat on Friday.
"And today I was there mentally,
fighting for every point, hitting good shots."
Wawrinka, beaten by Juan Monaco in the
third round, is set to play in Geneva this week as he struggles for
match-winning confidence ahead of the defence of his title in Paris.
There are even bigger doubts on Federer,
who won the Roland Garros title just once in 2009, and exited Rome still
complaining of a back injury which forced him out in Madrid.
Serena Williams, meanwhile, heads to Paris
brimming with confidence ahead of her bid for a third title at Roland Garros
that wold take her Grand Slam tally to 22.
The American swept past 21-year-old
compatriot Madison Keys 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to claim her fourth Italian Open victory
on Sunday, first title of the season and 70th of her career.
Williams becomes just the fifth woman to
achieve such a total in singles after Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Steffi
Graf and Margaret Court.
"I'm going to definitely go in there
and I feel more calm and I don't feel stress to, like, have to win," she