Nadal suffered his last defeat on clay against Ferrero in Rome last year
World number one Rafael Nadal recaptured the Rome Masters title from Novak Djokovic with a straight-sets win in Sunday's final at the Foro Italico.
The Spaniard won 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 to claim a record fourth Rome title and extend his unbeaten run on clay to 30 matches.
Nadal looks an overwhelming favourite to go unbeaten through the clay season at the Madrid Masters and French Open.
The result means that Djokovic will lose his world number three ranking to Britain's Andy Murray on 11 May.
"I had my chances," said Djokovic of Sunday's defeat by Nadal.
"He overcomes the pressure better than me, that's why he's the best in the world, but overall I'm pretty happy with the week.
"Maybe I've got to get to the net faster and take more chances. I've got to improve physically as well."
Nadal reclaims the title he won in 2005, 2006 and 2007, before suffering a shock early loss to Juan Carlos Ferrero 12 months ago - his last defeat on clay.
"For sure it's one of the biggest wins of my career," said Nadal, who surpasses three-time winners Thomas Muster of Austria, Australian Martin Mulligan and Czech Jaroslav Drobny. "It's always incredible to win in Rome.
"The first point of the tie-break was for him and I had two chances to serve for the first set and lost both times, but I played the tie-break well and that was the most important thing."
Djokovic had looked to be the closest challenger to Nadal in the early stages of this year's clay-court season, putting up stern resistance before losing the Monte Carlo final two weeks ago.
But the Spaniard still went into Sunday's match in Rome with a 12-4 lead in career meetings, including a 7-0 record on clay, and he took charge from the outset with an immediate break of serve.
There were signs of tension as Nadal twice failed to serve out in a dramatic finale to the opening set that saw wildly fluctuating fortunes, with Nadal first missing a set point before Djokovic smashed his racquet to destruction when broken for the second time.
It came down to a tie-break, and Nadal took it after Djokovic missed with a couple of key backhands.
The second set was a more straightforward affair, with Nadal breaking Djokovic's resistance after both men held serve early on, the Serb double-faulting on break point in game six.
Victory was sealed when Nadal made a spectacular running forehand pass down the line after two hours and three minutes, confirming his dominance on his favourite surface.
And it takes Nadal to 36 ATP tournament wins and 15 Masters Series titles, one more than Roger Federer and two behind Andre Agassi's record of 17.
"I would love to have more than 17," said Nadal. "Right now I have 15, I'm very happy for that, but I'm going to try my best in the next tournaments."
Nadal and Djokovic head to Madrid for the next Masters 1000 event, which gets under way on 10 May.