Novak Djokovic sent a strong message to Rafael Nadal and all his rivals with a convincing victory over the world No 1 to retain his Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title in London last night.
After losing the US Open final to Nadal, Djokovic has won 22 straight matches and used the conditions to his advantage to win the final 6-3, 6-4.
The three-time defending Australian Open champion will now head into 2014 halfway towards bettering his incredible 43-match unbeaten run in 2011.
Nadal had hoped to cap one of the most stunning years in tennis by winning the one major trophy still to elude him, and he said: “It’s been no doubt the most emotional season of my career.
“To play the last match in this stadium is a fantastic occasion for me even if I didn’t have the chance to win today because I played a fantastic player like Novak.”
A delighted Djokovic made a point of paying tribute to his coaching team, saying: “You may see us playing alone on the court but the big success comes from these guys behind us.”
It was fitting that the season was brought to an end by a 39th meeting between the two standout players of it.
Andy Murray’s historic Wimbledon triumph may have been the overwhelming highlight on these shores but Nadal and Djokovic were well ahead even before the Scot cut his season short to have back surgery.
As Murray jetted off to Miami to continue his preparations for what he hopes will be a January comeback, a packed crowd lapped up the latest instalment of the Open era’s most prolific rivalry – Nadal led 22-16 overall and 3-2 this season.
Neither man had been beaten at the O2 in the past week but the surface seemed to just give Djokovic the advantage and he set about showing that, exploiting some early hesitancy from his opponent to move into a 3-0 lead.
It could have been four straight games but Djokovic missed a makeable backhand and a roar of annoyance told just how important he thought that was. Both men looked nervy and some wild shots from the defending champion helped Nadal break back for 2-3.
Double faults were really hurting the Spaniard, though, and a fourth of the match gave Djokovic a second break point in the eighth game.
Nadal had saved the first with an excellent serve, and he thought he had done the same again but Djokovic somehow scrambled a lob off a volley and roared long and loud when he eventually won the point.
That left him serving for the set and he clinched it with a second ace.
Nadal was simply not managing to hit winners against his fellow defensive master, but it was Djokovic’s attacking that forced the error from the Spaniard as he conceded another break in the third game of the second set.
Djokovic’s volleying was one of the most impressive parts of what in truth was not a great match, and more excellent net play gave him two chances to lead 5-2, but this time Nadal was up to the challenge.
The top seed then saved a match point with a fine backhand and kept Djokovic waiting for a bit longer when he won a lengthy rally to save a second, but on the third chance Nadal drove a forehand just wide.
There was success for Spain in the doubles, though, and for the second straight year, with Fernando Verdasco and David Marrero beating Bob and Mike Bryan to follow in the footsteps of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez.
The Bryan brothers were going for their 12th title of an incredible season that saw them come within two victories of a calendar Grand Slam.
But they were edged out on a match tie-break, Verdasco and Marrero winning 7-5 6-7 (3/7) 10-7 to collect by far the biggest title of their careers. Marrero broke down in the trophy ceremony as the pair dedicated the win to his grandfather, who died two years ago to the day.
• Spanish tennis player Nuria Llagostera Vives, doubles winner at the 2009 WTA tour championships, has been banned for two years after testing positive for d-methamphetamine. Llagostera Vives, 33, gave a urine sample at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford in July.