The days of Rafael Nadal dominating Novak Djokovic on clay are long gone.
And, based on Djokovic's play in the 2013 Rome Masters thus far, that doesn't figure to change.
When Nadal defeated Djokovic in Madrid in 2009, it marked Nadal's ninth straight victory over the Serb on clay, dating all the way back to the 2006 French Open.
Since then, Djokovic has captured three of their six matches on clay, including in Monte Carlo in April where he won 6-2, 7-6 (1).
Djokovic is coming off a disappointing second-round loss to Grigor Dimitrov at the Madrid Open. Then again, he's been trying to work his way back from an ankle injury.
The 25-year-old was down 2-1 in the first set against Albert Montanes on Tuesday when it finally clicked in Rome. He went on to win 11 of the next 13 games en route to a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
That included winning 75 percent of first-serve points, 67 percent of second-serve points and 54 percent of second-serve return points while saving four of five break points, according to ATPTour.com. He won 61 percent of total points in the match.
This has the looks of bounce-back effort for Djokovic. I know Nadal has been playing out of his mind lately, but I like how the Serb got into a groove on Tuesday against Montanes, even if it was against inferior competition.
And, make no mistake about it, Djokovic is well aware of Nadal's dominance this season. He's also well aware that he hasn't been as dominant as many thought the world No. 1 would be. But he's not about to start sliding, not after a couple of brilliant seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Djokovic is also a lot more popular in Rome than he was in Madrid. He's always been a crowd favorite at the Rome Masters, which should be a sigh of relief given the reception he got from the Madrid audience following some controversial moves against Dimitrov.
Novak Djokovic had the look of a player who was getting back into form on Tuesday. Expect that to carry on through the 2013 Rome Masters.
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