MONTE CARLO (REUTERS) - Novak Djokovic continued his awe-inspiring run of form to claim the Monte Carlo Masters title on Sunday with a 7-5 4-6 6-3 win over Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych.
The Serbian world number one became the first player to clinch the opening three Masters titles of the season after he triumphed in Indian Wells and Miami, notably seeing off nine-times French Open champion Rafa Nadal in Saturday's semi-final.
Berdych, however, was no pushover in the final of the first tournament of the European claycourt season, which will culminate at Roland Garros from May 24-June 7.
"I thought I won this match with my heart and with battle," said Djokovic. "That's how I feel like I won it. I don't think I've played on the level that I wish to play and that I have played throughout the whole week.
"But also credit to Tomas, because he has played very aggressively, staying close to the line, pushing me back. So I had to defend a lot of times."
Coming into the match with a 2-18 win-loss record against Djokovic, Berdych had little to lose and he started brightly, stealing the Serbian's serve in the first game with a nice backhand winner down the line, allowing his opponent only two points in the first two games.
But the Czech started to make unforced errors and in no time Djokovic had moved from 3-1 down to 5-3 up.
Berdych kept battling and levelled for 5-5 after reeling off six points in a row in a see-saw contest that left Djokovic's coach, Boris Becker, sliding back into his seat.
The Serbian's rhythm, however, was too much to handle for Berdych, who saved two set points before cracking on the third, sending a backhand into the net after Djokovic had sent him chase the ball in every corner of the court.
Berdych had his chance in the fifth game of the second set as he set up three break points but he wasted two of them with unforced errors and Djokovic saved the third with a service winner.
He won that game and the match was interrupted by rain for about 70 minutes.
Berdych broke for 4-3 on his third opportunity after putting Djokovic on the back foot and he took the set after winning 15 of 19 points on his first serve.
His form then nosedived as Djokovic raced to a 4-0 lead in the decider, but Berdych then clawed back one of breaks and even had another chance to break in the seventh game.
But once again, the Czech made unforced errors and was powerless to stop Djokovic from closing it out on his serve.