Djokovic closing in on No 1 spot

Djokovic closing in on No 1 spot

Yet to taste defeat this year, Serb could displace Nadal in Rome

Logic had it that the Serb's magnificent unbeaten start to 2011 would hit the wall against the world number one on the Madrid brick dust as Nadal flexed his muscles for the looming French Open -- the Grand Slam he wins almost by default.

Instead Djokovic, who had lost each of his previous nine claycourt meetings with Nadal, turned from prey to hunter, pursuing the Spaniard relentlessly with a ruthlessly aggressive display of power, precision and durability.

Even when Nadal clawed back a 4-0 first set deficit, the 23-year-old Djokovic never wavered from his objective and finished a resounding 7-5, 6-4 victor.  The pro-Nadal crowd in the Magic Box Arena were stunned into silence, not just because the King of Clay had been dethroned, but the brutal way in which Djokovic accomplished it.  Standing on the baseline, Djokovic nullified the spitting topspin of Nadal's forehand, sending the Spaniard scuttling from corner to corner and forcing increasingly desperate errors.

Inconceivable as it may have been a few months ago when Nadal enjoyed an enormous points lead in the ATP rankings, the 24-year-old Mallorcan could now arrive at Roland Garros as world number two and second favourite to win a sixth title in Paris.

While Nadal, never one to obsess about points and rankings, appears relaxed about the Djokovic uprising, his loss to the Serb on home dirt would have been a resounding jolt.

“If I lose No 1 it's not the end of the world,” Nadal said after his first defeat on a claycourt since 2009.  “I'll try to work and I'll try to beat him. The good things will come and you’ve got to be patient. I’m (almost) 25 years old and I've played more than I ever dreamed when I started.

“I'll be back. In your life there are highs and moments, I am not on a low, I'm on a high but my opponent is at the highest point in his life.”

It could get even higher for Djokovic in Rome this week. Should he win the title and Nadal suffers defeat before the semifinals, Djokovic will wake up next Monday as world number one and break the domination of top spot by Nadal and Roger Federer stretching back to 2004.

It is hardly as if Djokovic has come from nowhere, after all he won the Australian Open in 2008. But since taking the title in Melbourne again this year he has grown in stature, both physically and mentally.