By Andrew Dampf ,AP
ROME — Top-ranked Novak Djokovic bolstered his clay-court credentials a week ahead of Roland Garros with a convincing 6-4, 6-3 win over Roger Federer on Sunday to capture his fourth Italian Open title.
Extending his winning streak to 22 matches, Djokovic proved too consistent and too quick for Federer, who has never won the title at the Foro Italico in 15 appearances.
��It was a great week and today was my best match,�� Djokovic told the crowd in Italian. ��It’s always a pleasure to play against Roger and obviously I’m very pleased by today. … Along with 2011, this is the best year of my career. I don’t know how (to) continue at Roland Garros but obviously I have a lot of confidence. I hope I can continue like this.��
Djokovic produced a spectacular return to set up the decisive break at the end of the first set then got an early break in the second.
The match lasted just 75 minutes.
��Novak was too strong today,�� Federer said. ��I know I can play better. Novak was rock solid today.��
In the women’s tournament, Maria Sharapova rallied to beat 10th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 and win her third Rome title.
The victory gives Sharapova confidence as she prepares to defend her title at the French Open, which starts next weekend.
The French Open is the only Grand Slam that Djokovic has never won, and he will enter as the favorite this year considering Rafael Nadal’s recent struggles.
��I don’t think I need to go and do anything more special for Roland Garros,�� Djokovic said. ��I just need to keep going on (this) route.��
Djokovic also won the Rome title in 2008, 2011 and last year.
Handed a marker to sign a TV camera lens after the match, Djokovic wrote in Italian, ��Grazie ancora Roma�� �X Thanks again Rome �X surrounded by a heart.
With the temperature soaring above 30 Celsius (about 90 Fahrenheit) at the Foro Italico, Djokovic won most of the long rallies.
The first set was decided by just a few points. Leading 5-4, Djokovic produced a spectacular forehand return cross-court winner that landed on the line to set up a break point, then closed it out when Federer netted a backhand after a long rally.
The only real problem for Djokovic came after the trophy presentation when a champagne cork popped prematurely and appeared to graze his forehead.
��We had an argument, Mr. Champagne and I,�� Djokovic. ��He threw a punch and I won’t forget it.��
Sharapova’s first two titles in Rome came back-to-back in 2011 and 2012.
��It’s always a special victory,�� Sharapova said during the trophy presentation. ��It isn’t my first time but when I’m able to hold the trophy again it brings back memories of winning it the first time.��
Sharapova struggled for long stretches to figure out Suarez Navarro’s variation of spins, slices and heavy topspin shots �X with a one-handed backhand that was difficult to read.
But once the second-seeded Sharapova started stepping into the court, attacking the Spaniard’s serve and finding the corners, she took control.
The match lasted more than 2 1/2 hours and Sharapova hit 39 winners to Suarez Navarro’s 12.
For her 35th career title, and 11th on clay, Sharapova celebrated mildly with a smile and a few fist pumps.
��I remember coming to Italy as a little girl and this was one of the tournaments I dreamed of playing,�� Sharapova said. ��Now to win it for a third time is very special.��
Suarez Navarro was playing her third final of the year �X and for the third time she finished runner-up, following performances in Antwerp, Belgium; and Miami.