ROME, May 4, 2008 (AFP)
World number one Roger Federer will take to the clay of Rome for the latest Masters Series event looking to put the skids on Rafael Nadal's awesome clay court form.
The Spanish world number two is looking for his fourth straight title in the Italian capital and only Federer seems capable of standing in his way.
Ahead of the Barcelona final against David Ferrer, Nadal had only ever lost one final on clay in 20 attempts, and that was to Federer last year in Hamburg where he came back from a set down to run out a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 winner.
Nadal actually has a perfect record in Rome, never having lost a match but this year he will face as tough an opposition as possible with all of the world's top nine lining up.
Federer has a tough draw with a potential second round match-up against Argentine clay specialist Guillermo Canas, who beat Federer twice in a row last year.
Should he come through that he also has world number three Novak Djokovic in his half of the draw.
But a repeat of the 2006 final when Nadal triumphed over Federer in a fifth set tie-break is a distinct possibility.
The Spaniard has already shown by winning the recent Monte Carlo Masters that he is at the top of his clay court form.
Federer too started his clay season early this year in a bid to end his Roland Garros title drought.
He won in Estoril before reaching the Monte Carlo final and the extra time on court may stand him in good stead ahead of the French Open.
Nadal has also complained recently about the packed schedule, lashing out at the ATP this week in Barcelona.
"These people are destroying Europe. No-one is listening to the players," he said in reference to the alarming number of withdrawals in tournaments this year.
"You cannot keep a top level over four weeks," he added. "We have to thank the people who decided the calendar for what they've done to us and to the tournaments.
"Look to them when players cannot finish matches. When a player pulls out of an event, the tournaments should ring the ATP, not blame the player."
The Rome tournament is the fourth Masters Series event of the year and second on clay.
Next year it will boast a new stadium with a larger capacity but this year temporary seating has been put in instead to increase the Nicola Pietrangeli stadium to 9,500.



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