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King of clay fires warning shots

sports Updated: May 21, 2013 02:05 IST

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Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams fired warning shots to their French Open rivals with comprehensive victories over Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka respectively in Rome on Sunday.

Nadal has produced some blistering tennis since returning from a seven-month injury absence and his seventh victory in nine years on the red clay of Rome left his Swiss rival in no doubt as to the Spaniard's prospects of lifting an eighth French Open title.

“Now he is the favourite for the French Open,” said Federer.

While it was Federer’s first final this year, it was Nadal’s eighth, having swept aside Tomas Berdych a day after the big-serving Czech stunned world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the quarters.

It set up Federer and Nadal’s 30th meeting, but with 19 defeats against the Spaniard — 12 of which had already come on clay — the Swiss was playing catch-up from the third game before falling to a comprehensive 6-1, 6-3 loss.

The man to beat
The manner of Nadal’s win, and the level of his performances this week, leave no doubt as to who will be the man to beat in Paris. But he warned that form is no guarantee against an early upset.

“Maybe it is enough, but what can I tell you? If I play like this and I arrive at Roland Garros and somebody beats me, I will shake his hand,” said Nadal, who has won six titles in eight tournaments since his return to the tour in February. “When you play and win many titles in a row like I am doing, then you are doing things well. I could reach Roland Garros and lose in the first round — this is the sport, and this is tennis.”

Djokovic blamed a “loss of concentration” for his defeat to Berdych, but remained upbeat ahead of the French Open

While Djokovic’s exit arguably eased Nadal’s path to victory, Federer, on the day, was no match on the Spaniard’s preferred surface. “He played very aggressively from the start, he didn’t make too many mistakes and had a good match overall,” said Federer."

No pressure
Williams is likely to face her stiffest challenge from Azarenka and defending French Open champion Maria Sharapova.

After world number two Sharapova withdrew with a fever before her quarter-final with Italy’s Sara Errani, Williams cruised to the final where Azarenka, after sweeping Errani aside in the semis, suffered the same treatment in a largely one-sided affair.

It was Williams’ fourth title this season, the 51st of her career and left her feeling confident she can avenge her shock first round loss in Paris last year to Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano. “I’ve won every Grand Slam there is to win, even if only once. But for me I don’t feel any pressure any more,” Williams said after her 6-1, 6-3 win over Azarenka.