Rafael Nadal crushes Roger Federer to show clay supremacy in Rome final

If Roger Federer's collapse against Rafael Nadal in the Rome Masters on Sunday was to be the last time they meet in a final, it should not sour the memory of the 19 that went before.

But the reality is the rivalry that has illuminated the game for a decade is fading by the day.

This will make uncomfortable reading for those who believe Federer can add to his collection of 17 grand slam titles but, on the evidence here, there is no chance of that happening at the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

Federer, who turns 32 in August, was gracious enough to acknowledge that Nadal would be favourite to win again in Paris and noted the scale of the Spaniard's comeback after seven months out – this was his 36th win in 38 matches and his eighth consecutive final.

Nadal said: "If anyone had told me [that] when I came back I would win six titles, I would have told them they were crazy. It has exceeded my wildest dreams." The No5 seed was diplomatic when asked if he was surprised at the ease of the win. "It was surprising. I cannot expect to win against Roger 6-1, 6-3."

"He's playing well, I'm very happy for him, super-consistent," Federer said. "It goes to show that is what other players should do [take time out of the game to get fit], then come back 100%." That sounded like an unsubtle hint to Andy Murray, who will decide on Wednesday whether his injured back will allow him to play at Roland Garros.

As for his own game, the Swiss surely has some lovely tennis yet in his racket and he produced much of it in the cool Roman moonlight all week, against Gilles Simon, young Jerzy Janowicz and the elegant Benoît Paire. But in the daylight heat of the battle, for an hour and nine minutes on an otherwise blessed Sunday, a stunned audience in the Campo Centrale saw very little of it.

An embarrassing string of miscued forehands even inspired a short burst of minor derision at the start of the second set, as whistles mingled with jeers – unprecedented in his career, as far as anyone could remember.

There was a flickering of vintage Federer towards the end, when he broke his tormentor to love and briefly reclaimed the support of the crowd, but it was a stubborn gesture in a lost cause and Nadal duly completed the execution 6-1, 6-3. The defending champion played well enough, unfurling his arsenal of strong, wristy forehands from deep but, in the end, he had to do no more than wait for the final bell.

They smiled and whispered during the presentation, the Spaniard joyously, the loser with a trace of obligation not to spoil the party, such as it was. This was Nadal's 19th match in 33 days, his 10th in the past 12, an impressive run by any standards, more so considering there is no guarantee his right knee will not give up on him at any moment.

Federer acknowledged Nadal's superiority on his favourite surface and his precis of the match made perfect sense: "He takes the serve and return almost out of play," Federer said. "He plays so well from deep and you should try to play more serve and volley, but he makes it difficult. You can't dictate play, so you take more chances. I had more time to get set in rallies against other players this week – against Rafa you don't get that time."

Time is what Federer does not have as much of as Nadal who, at 26, has roared back to splendid form. Whether his body can sustain the effort throughout the summer is a different question and there is every chance Federer will come into his own next month at Wimbledon, where he holds the title.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Kevin Mitchell in Rome, for The Guardian on Sunday 19th May 2013 18.12 Europe/London

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