Novak Djokovic improved to 22-0 since losing the U.S. Open final. (Glyk Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON -- No. 2 Novak Djokovic defeated No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 on Monday to win the ATP World Tour Finals for the third time and remain unbeaten since the U.S. Open.
Djokovic extended his winning streak to 22 matches and capped a fall run that also featured titles at the China Open, Shanghai Masters and Paris Masters. The Serb has bounced back from his loss to Nadal at the U.S. Open final by beating Nadal twice in straight sets, Roger Federer twice in a three-day span and Juan Martin del Potro twice. And Djokovic isn't done in 2013, either, as he'll lead Serbia in the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic later this week.
"This was the best possible ending" to the ATP season, said Djokovic, who won his seventh title of the year. "I really feel that now [after the fall run] my season was really good. This is definitely a great confidence boost for the start of next season."
After needed three sets to win each of his three round-robin matches in the final tour event of the season, Djokovic dispatched Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals Sunday and cruised past a subpar Nadal in the final. He won the eight-player event for the second year in a row.
Nadal earned the year-end No. 1 ranking by winning 10 titles in 2013, including the French Open and U.S. Open. But he slipped a notch during the fall while his main rival soared, losing to Djokovic in the final of the China Open, to del Potro in the semifinals of the Shanghai Masters and to David Ferrer in the semifinals of the Paris Masters.
"I didn't play a bad match, but not enough consistently," Nadal said of Monday's effort. "That's why the result. He was more consistent than me on the serve. In the end, that makes a big difference, because he doesn't let you play with more calm the rest of the shots."
Monday's victory gave Djokovic a split of six matches against Nadal this year. Nadal still leads the head-the-head 22-17.
Here is game-by-game analysis of the final:
5:11 p.m. ET | Novak Djokovic defeats Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 to win his second ATP World Tour Finals
Nadal battles to save another match point, which began with a fantastic stab return and ended with a backhand flick winner. I could be wrong, but it looked like he celebrated with a huge fist pump and a "COME ON!!!" instead of his usual "Vamos!" When in Rome ...
Djokovic responds with a cool ace and then finally converts on his third match point, as Nadal starts ripping forehands but finally sends one wide.
Final match stats:
Djokovic: 6 aces, 0 double faults, 65 percent first serves, 70 percent second-serve points won, 19 winners, 21 unforced errors.
Nadal: 1 ace, 4 double faults, 73 percent first serves, 50 percent second-serve points won, 9 winners, 23 unforced errors.
The match wasn't as close as the scoreline would indicate. This was a clean takedown from the uber-confident Djokovic, who has now won 10 straight matches at the O2. He successfully defended his year-end title, won his fourth title in a row and stretched his post-U.S. Open winning streak to 22 matches. That's a full head of steam as he heads to Belgrade to try to deliver a second Davis Cup title to Serbia. Incredible post-U.S. Open turnaround for Djokovic and a tribute to his hunter mentality.
5:03 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, trails 4-5*.
Nope. No wobble from Djokovic. After missing his opportunity for a double break, he comes out and holds at 15. Nadal to serve to stay in the match.
I don't usually quote myself but ...
Nadal saves a match point with a nice, deep backhand down the line that earns an error and he battles back to hold. Djokovic will serve for his 10th straight win at the World Tour Finals.
4:54 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, trails 3-4*.
Unless Nadal can summon something special, this match feels pretty inevitable. Nadal hasn't been able to do much to pull Djokovic out of his comfort zone. His forehand is not a weapon tonight -- a far cry from the U.S. Open final, when he was whipping it flat and inside-out for winners en route to the title.
Once again, Djokovic is a point away from a double-break lead, and he can't convert. In the first set, he was a point from a 4-0 lead, but Nadal went on a three-game tear before the Serb took back the momentum. Here, he had two break points for a 5-2 lead, but Nadal came up with some good serves and Djokovic got a little bit tight. Huge hold for Nadal there -- could be a set-changer.
Rafael Nadal doesn't have the forehand firing against Novak Djokovic. (Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)
4:41 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, trails 2-3*.
Nadal continues to make things easy for Djokovic, firing unforced errors off both sides. As he sails his 18th unforced error of the match (he's hit just four winners), Djokovic consolidates his lead. The forehand is just off today. Nadal is playing like a very tired man, which is understandable given what he's done this season. It doesn't help that the indoor conditions continue to be a mental block for him. So far he hasn't shown up today, while Djokovic is playing like a man possessed. Nothing outstanding from the Serb, but incredibly solid.
4:36 p.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *2-1.
Well, that's rather ominous for Nadal. He begins the set with a hold at 30. Djokovic responds with an easy hold as well.
Then Djokovic surges into the lead again with an early break. Nadal falls behind 0-40 with some bad errors on his forehand (he's already hit six unforced off that side in this set) and Djokovic is pumped.
Coming into this match, Djokovic (59 percent) and Nadal (57 percent) led the tour in second-serve points won. Tonight, Nadal is at 50 percent while Djokovic is at 64 percent. Key stat there, as these are two of the best returners in the game. Nadal just can't get comfortable on his service games.
4:24 p.m. ET | Djokovic wins the first set 6-3.
Nadal up against it again. He's down a break point, but saves it with a big service winner down the tee. Then he plunks his fourth double fault to give Djokovic his fifth break point. The fun, scrambling rally that ends with both men at the net is finished with a forehand volley from Djokovic into the open court. He lets out the roar of all roars. As soon as he's done roaring, he'll try to serve for the first set.
Nadal with a look to break back thanks to a nifty backhand overhead smash that lands at Djokovic's feet to take a 15-30 lead. But a lucky net-cord winner gets Djokovic to 30-30. Two points later, and he's firing a fist to his box. First blood to Djokovic as he takes the set 6-3 in 44 minutes.
Novak Djokovic celebrates during the first set. (Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)
Nadal: 3 winners, 10 unforced errors, four double faults, 58 percent first serves in, 45 percent second-serve points won.
Djokovic: 11 winners, 12 unforced errors, 0 double-faults, 73 percent first serves in, winning 63 percent second-serve points won.
That was a nice fight from Nadal, but that set wasn't close. He really didn't play that well, and when Djokovic wobbled mid-set, he couldn't take advantage. Djokovic's focus and ability to close out that set is representative of his entire fall season. There's no doubt in his mind these days, which is a change from much of this year.
4:07 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
Tremendous point from Djokovic to start the game. He weathers the heavy topspin until he gets one he can hit; stepping into it, he cracks a cross-court backhand winner from shoulder height. However, that rally seems to have taken out his legs. He's huffing and puffing between points for the rest of the game, sending in some tired unforced errors. Nadal holds at 15.
After beating Federer yesterday, Nadal said he had to be more aggressive against Djokovic. Six games into the match and he's losing that battle. He's hit 1 winner to 6 unforced errors, while Djokovic has racked up 7 winners to 11 unforced errors. In one of the weirder stats from yesterday's semifinals, it took Djokovic 50 points until he finally hit his first winner against Stanislas Wawrinka. Hit his first one on the first point of the match today.
4:00 p.m. ET | Nadal breaks, trails *2-3.
Nadal saves another break point and finally gets on the board. He's serving below 50 percent at the moment, which is pretty unacceptable for him given that he doesn't go for that much.
Nadal gets the chance to get back on serve in the very next game, earning his first two break points. Djokovic saves them coolly, but then dumps a forehand into the middle of the net -- his ninth unforced error -- to give Nadal his third break point of the game. Nadal baits him with a short backhand chip, and Djokovic flicks the backhand approach way long. We're back on serve.
This is the 19th meeting in a final between Nadal and Djokovic, which is only one behind Nadal-Federer and Lendl-McEnroe, who played each other 20 times. No doubt these two will shatter that record in the years to come. This is the rivalry in men's tennis right now. If Djokovic wins tonight, he would tie Nadal for the longest winning streak of the season at 22 matches. And he's still got Davis Cup next week.
3:47 p.m. ET | Djokovic consolidates the break, leads 3-0*.
Djokovic starts with a winner and ends with an ace. His four winners lead to an easy hold to start the match.
Djokovic gets three break points as Nadal continues to struggle with his depth on the forehand. He's toast on hard court if he can't get that shot deeper and push Djokovic off the baseline. Djokovic handles that high kick to his backhand well, and he's really leaning into that shot early. Nadal saves one break point with a great get off an ill-conceived drop shot but can't save another. He sends a defensive backhand slice into the tape and Djokovic has the lead.
Djokovic consolidates the break with a hold at 30. A little better from Nadal in that game to get the ball deep, but he's already frustrated with his inability to get consistent depth on his forehand.
3:33 p.m. ET | Warm up
Slight delay with the men's singles final as the tightly contested men's doubles final goes into extra innings, with David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco topping Bob and Mike Bryan 7-5, 6-7 (3), 10-7. It's just the second title of the year for the Spaniards, who had an incredible week. They beat the No. 1 Bryans, defending champions Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, U.S. Open champions Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek, and Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, who went undefeated in group play.
Looking closer to an 8:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. ET) start for Djokovic-Nadal.
The smoke machine is engaged, the players take the court and, as always, Nadal makes us all wait a little bit longer as he goes through his pre-match routines. Mohamed Lahyani is the chair umpire.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal take the court in dramatic fashion. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
It's an impossible match to call. I've done some informal polling in the press room here and everyone seems conflicted but giving the edge to Djokovic because of his current run of form. Handicapping the matchup via the conditions is tough, too. Nadal actually leads the indoor head-to-head 2-1, though the two haven't played under a roof since the 2010 World Tour Finals, which Nadal won 7-5, 6-2. That's also the last time Nadal beat him in straight sets on a hard court.
Before the tournament, Nadal was asked whether Djokovic was the favorite in London given his unbeaten streak since the U.S. Open. He said "Yes," then took a sip of his milkshake.
An homage to There Will Be Blood?
The players are done with their warm-up and Djokovic will serve first.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal will meet No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals on Monday in London. The match, which ESPN2 will televise, is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. ET.
Both players enter 4-0 at the season-ending tournament that features the eight best players of 2013 (minus an injured Andy Murray). Nadal clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking when he beat Tomas Berdych in his second match here. The 27-year-old Spaniard also defeated Roger Federer 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals Sunday to move within one victory of his career-high-tying 11th title of the year and first title at the World Tour Finals.
Djokovic, the defending champion, earned his spot in the final with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Stanislas Wawrinka. The 26-year-old Serb is 21-0 since losing to Nadal at the U.S. Open final. That unbeaten run has included a 6-3, 6-4 win against Nadal in the China Open final, Djokovic's first victory in three hard-court matches against his rival this year.
“This is probably the most competitive tournament that we have after Grand Slams, and we both want to crown this season in the best possible way and end it with a title,” Djokovic said.
Nadal leads the overall head-to-head 22-16. This will be their 39th clash, the most in the Open era. Nadal and Djokovic have split 18 matches (9-9) in finals.