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Nadal's edge over Federer narrowing

Beating Federer in the semifinals at Roland Garros last year and in the Monte Carlo final last month, Nadal's win on Sunday proves his edge in the game.

india Updated: May 15, 2006 12:11 IST

Rafael Nadal still has the edge against Roger Federer. The gap is closing, though.

Nadal beat Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker on Sunday to defend his Rome Masters title and tie Guillermo Vilas' record 53-match winning streak on clay in the Open era.

The second-ranked Nadal won 6-7 (0), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5) in 5 hours, 5 minutes, improving to 5-1 in his career against Federer.

In the Monte Carlo final last month, Nadal beat Federer in a fourth-set tiebreaker. Both tournaments are clay-court warm-ups for the French Open, which starts in two weeks.

Another of Nadal's wins over Federer came in the semifinals at Roland Garros last year.

"Obviously I would have liked to win, but I already knew after Monaco I was extremely close. I think this is another step closer," Federer said.

Federer led 4-1 in the fifth set and the top-ranked player wasted two match points at 6-5, both with errant forehands. "I should have won. He caught me right at the finish line," Federer said.

The 19-year-old Nadal has won nine straight tournaments on clay. His 16th title also tied him with Bjorn Borg for most titles won as a teenager.

"It's very difficult to win every tournament, 53 matches is a lot of matches," Nadal said.

Vilas set his streak in 1977, beginning with a win in May at the French Open and ending with a loss to Ilie Nastase in October in Aix en Provence, France.

Nadal can break the record with a win against Tommy Haas in the first round of the Hamburg Masters next week.

Nadal also won a fifth-set tiebreaker in last year's final, beating Guillermo Coria in 5:14 - the longest final of the Open era.

"I think Federer was maybe tougher to beat. He's more aggressive and serves very well," Nadal said, eating his traditional post-match plate of pasta at Foro Italico.

"If he hits a good serve and he comes in with his forehand, there is nothing you can do. "In fact, I was lucky when he had match point he made a mistake with two forehands," Nadal added.

Federer dropped to 39-3 this year, with his only losses coming to Nadal. Nadal also won a match up between the top two players at Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in March.

Federer employed more aggressive tactics than the Monte Carlo final; when he lost serve seven times.

He only served-and-volleyed sparingly, but aimed for the corners and followed his baseline shots into the net at every opportunity. Nadal broke serve only three times.

"For me just to hit and move backwards again, that's not the way I learned the game," Federer said. "My way of thinking is come to the net and finish it at the net."

Federer won 64 of 84 points at the net. Nadal only came forward 30 times, and won 18 points.

"He hardly passed me today, which was a good feeling. So I have to keep that up," Federer said.

Nadal played his usual baseline game, and his heavy lefty topspin consistently gave Federer problems. The Swiss star shanked several shots high into the stands.

Federer hit 70 winners to Nadal's 46, but had 89 unforced errors to the Spaniard's 60.