Novak Djokovic continued his domination over world number one Rafa Nadal ahead of the French Open by claiming the Rome Masters crown 6-4 6-4 on Sunday to stretch his unbeaten run this year to 37 matches.
The Serb, who defeated Nadal for the first time on clay in the Madrid Open final last weekend, won his seventh consecutive title by flattening the five-times champion on the bigger points in another brutal duel.
"I was amazed by the way I played," Djokovic, who is just five matches short of equalling John McEnroe's 42-0 start record, told reporters.
"I was on the verge of losing the semi-final match. This was maybe my best performance on clay courts to beat the best man in the world in straight sets.
"I served really well getting free points. I played the perfect match against Rafa in Madrid and here."
The 23-year-old said Nadal was still the man to beat in Paris.
"Let's get one thing straight -- he's still the king of clay," Djokovic said. "He's the best person ever on these courts. Winning twice in the last week is a great achievement and gives me confidence coming up to France but he has been so dominant over the years."
Nadal, who had not been beaten on clay for almost two years until last Sunday, was magnanimous in defeat and embraced his conqueror as the players received a standing ovation from the crowd.
"Compliments to Novak for his splendid performance and the season he is having," said Nadal, who had almost pulled out before the tournament started due to illness.
"I'm not sad today. I'm not disappointed. I felt I played better than in Madrid. I changed things. I tried to play more to his forehand. I felt I was able to move well and play more aggressively.
Rain delays start
"He played well in the important moments. At 15-30 in the second set, he played down the line all the time. I was close a lot of moments in the second set but it wasn't to be."
A rain-delayed start gave Djokovic a few extra hours to recover from Friday's draining three-hour semi-final win over Andy Murray, but there were ominous signs in the third game that the world number two might still be weary as he dinked a dropshot that barely reached the bottom of the net.
The Serbian recovered, though, crashing a forehand down the line to take the game. Nadal remained unruffled and whizzed around the court to bring an excited Foro Italico crowd to their feet with a whipped forehand to level at 3-3.
After Nadal produced another superb running forehand, Djokovic conjured an incredible angle with a whipped forehand to hold serve.
In the next game, Djokovic won a marathon point at 15-all and with the tension palpable, the Spaniard erred twice more -- floating a forehand long before mis-hitting another high into the Rome sky to hand the Serb the first break at 5-3.
He faltered on his first attempt to serve out the set, surrendering the advantage by netting the ball following another exhausing rally, but broke Nadal again with a brilliant backhand crosscourt winner to take the set.
An anxious-looking Nadal, who will be looking to win his sixth French Open trophy when the claycourt grand slam begins next Sunday, fought back from 2-0 down in a fluctuating second set before Djokovic underlined his mental toughness, forcing the Spaniard into errors to break in the ninth game.
Djokovic saw his first three match points go begging -- thanks to two backhand errors and an unreturnable serve from Nadal -- but he made no mistake on the fourth.
After a furious exchange which featured two net cords, Djokovic whipped a forehand and then watched on as a charging Nadal could only roll the ball into the net to hand the world number two another memorable victory.
Djokovic promptly collapsed on to his back and let out an almighty roar to celebrate his victory.