Monte Carlo:World number one Rafael Nadal survived a battling Novak Djokovic to clinch a fifth successive Monte Carlo Masters title on Sunday and equal a century-old record at the Country Club.
Nadal turned on the afterburners at the start of the third set, winning a 13-minute game to set the tone for his 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 victory.
The Spaniard joined New Zealander Anthony Wilding from a century ago, who also won five (non-consecutive) titles at the premier clay event starting in 1908.
Nadal lost his first set here since the 2006 final against Roger Federer, but barely noticed as he powered past his third-ranked Serb opponent for the 12th time in 16 meetings, including seven for seven on clay.
"Confidence was important, I had to fight all the time and put the balls inside the lines," said Nadal, who won his 14th Masters title to now stand alongside Federer.
"I needed to play aggressively without mistakes. I was very focused on the moment, that's why I was able to win," said the four-time Roland Garros champion who will now travel to Barcelona to attempt five in a row at the Catalan venue next week.
"It is very emotional for me here, winning five in a row. I'm very, very happy."
Nadal has nudged just over the halfway point as he approaches the all-time number of career clay titles with his 23rd crown.
Argentine Guillermo Vilas holds the record of 45.
He also drew level with Andy Murray on three trophys this season, adding the principality to his pair at the Australian Open and Indian Wells.
The Spaniard's victory was his 29th of the season and leaves him a near-flawless 29-1 at Monte Carlo, where he suffered his only loss in 2003 against Guillermo Coria.
Djokovic, who took treatment for a back muscle tweak in the second set, fought through to the end in style in an encounter lasting for just under three hours on the clay.
"I played a really good match, but I'm disappointed with the loss," said the world number three who advanced closer to Federer in the points standings.
"It was close out there and I was playing the right game. But I was rushing some of the points and trying to end them too quickly. Rafael used his strength and experience on the surface to win again."
Nadal got through the 58-minute set but let his level drop in the second as Djokovic stormed back.
Nadal's tenacious staying power proved to be too much as he ran away with the third after claiming the opening marathon game.
"He's stronger than me, but I felt well throughout the match," said Djokovic.
"Even if I lost I"m happy the way I've started my season on clay," said the 2008 semi-finalist who quit his last four match with Federer through illness.
Nadal will hope to conserve energy as he builds towards a dream fifth in success in the French Open from next month, a tournament where he has never been beaten.
"It was a really long match for three sets," said the Spaniard. "But I played very well.
Nadal has lost only 14 clay matches in his career.