Novak Djokovic lost only six points on serve in Sunday's victory. (Feng Li/Getty Images)
On the final day of his current reign at No. 1, Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 to win his fourth China Open title in four appearances.
With Sunday's victory, Djokovic snapped Nadal's 22-match winning streak and handed the Spaniard his first hard-court loss this year after a 26-0 run that included four titles. On Monday, however, Nadal will replace Djokovic as the ATP Tour's No. 1 player, Nadal, 27, clinched the top spot by reaching the final, his first turn at No. 1 since July 2011.
Sunday marked the 38th meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, an Open era record. Nadal now leads 22-16, but Djokovic extended his edge on hard courts to 12-7. The 26-year-old Serb halted a three-match losing streak to Nadal, who beat Djokovic in the U.S. Open final last month.
"I needed this win," Djokovic said after improving to 19-0 at the China Open. "I really wanted to get my hands on the trophy and win against Nadal, who has been the best player so far in 2013. It's very important for my confidence. It's very important mentally and emotionally for me."
Djokovic surrendered only six points on serve and didn't face a break point. While his defense was as good as it's ever been against Nadal, it was his offense that won the day. Djokovic punished Nadal with his forehand all match. He raced to a 3-0 lead in the first set, during which he lost two points on serve. He broke again in the first game of the second set and rolled to victory in one hour and 27 minutes. (Click here for highlights.)
"I didn't see the way to stop him," Nadal said. "He was too strong for me. I didn't play my best match, but he played at a very high level with his serve.
"He was able to hit all the balls where he wanted to hit them. When that is happening against a player like Novak, you are dead."
Despite winning his fourth title of the year, Djokovic will cede the No. 1 ranking to Nadal after holding it for 48 weeks in a row. Nadal has overtaken Djokovic with a 65-4, 10-title season that began in February and came on the heels of a seven-month absence because of a knee injury. Nadal has advanced to the final in 13 of 14 tournaments this year, the only exception being a first-round loss at Wimbledon.
"Congratulations to Rafael," Djokovic said during the trophy ceremony, "because he deserves to be No. 1 this year with the season that he has had."
Said Nadal: "I really thought that I would never have the chance to be back [at No. 1]. I'm playing one of the best seasons of my career, probably one of the more emotional years, if not the most, for so many facts.''
Nadal is seeking to finish the season at No. 1 for the third time. He leads Djokovic by 2,700 points in the Race to London rankings, with two ATP Masters 1000 events and the ATP World Tour Finals left to play. Nadal has also confirmed for the Swiss Indoors, an ATP 500 event in Roger Federer's hometown of Basel, Switzerland.