Novak Djokovic handed world no.1 Rafael Nadal a rare defeat on clay, a week ahead of the French Open, as he won the Italian Open title 4-6 6-3 6-3 in Rome.

He had to come from a set down to do so but produced two sets of high-quality tennis to secure a win in two hours, 19 minutes.

Nadal drew first blood in the men's final when he broke in game three and, after consolidating his advantage, he extended it to 4-1 in Djokovic's next service game.

The Serb responded by smashing his racquet and though he channelled his frustration in a more positive way and got the first break back in the next game, Nadal was still left serving for the set at 5-4.

Djokovic won the first point after a superb rally but was deceived by Nadal's next serve, before the Spanish player moved ahead with a tremendous forehand winner down the line and went on to win the game and the set.

Djokovic broke at the first time of asking in the second set, clinching the game with a blistering cross-court forehand.

And though he was sloppily broken back while serving at 3-1 up, the world number two produced an otherwise faultless set which he won 6-3 to force a decider.

He continued his momentum with an early break but Nadal recovered to level the set at 3-3, with both players stepping up in quality as the match progressed.

It was Djokovic, though, who found an extra gear as he broke again to lead 4-3 and then turned the screw, his third break of the set and sixth of the match securing victory.

Djokovic hit 46 winners to Nadal's 15 and won 72 per cent of points on his first serve as opposed to 54 for the Spaniard.

It was Djokovic's 19th ATP Masters title and his fifth in the last six such events.

Djokovic, speaking in Italian at the on-court presentation, said: "It's a special moment to win this tournament.

"I want to thank my team who are always close to me and give me tons of support throughout my career. None of this would be possible without them.

"I've really appreciated the chance to play here over the years and this final was an incredible challenge. I hope to return next year, see you again."