BEIJING – Novak Djokovic lost his top ranking to the resurgent Rafael Nadal, but lost no time in gaining some consolation with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over the Spaniard to claim the China Open on Sunday for the fourth time in five years.
Nadal was assured of replacing Djokovic atop the rankings by reaching the final in Beijing.
But the Serb proved too much for Nadal, breaking him in the second game of the first set and again in the first game of the second. He racked up four aces to the Nadal's two and claimed 19 winners to the Spaniard's nine.
"I needed this win today. I really wanted to get my hands on the trophy and win against Nadal who has been the best player so far in 2013," said Djokovic, who had lost their last three meetings, including one at the U.S. Open.
Djokovic credited his almost flawless serve for the win this time, as well as his ability to keep calm. He said playing doubles also helped, both in sharpening his game and building his confidence.
"That's crucial to get that necessary confidence when you're playing top guys, somebody like Nadal, who loves to get into the rally, loves to be in his comfort zone and I was always trying to move him around the court and I've done pretty well," Djokovic said.
Djokovic has yet to lose a match in Beijing.
"Center Court is exceptional. I enjoy it, and I try to cherish every moment that I spend here. And the results are showing how much I really enjoy being here and enjoy playing in this tournament."
Nadal, the reigning French Open and U.S. Open champion, has had a dominant year since returning in February from a seven-month layoff due to a left knee injury. He has won 10 titles and reached 12 finals overall, compiling an ATP Tour-best record of 65-3 on the season.
He hadn't lost a match since falling in the opening round at Wimbledon to 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium in June, his only previous blip this year.
Beijing also marked Nadal's only loss on hard courts, a defeat he put down to Djokovic's serve.
"I was not able to have any chance when I was returning through the whole match," Nadal said. "When that's happening against a player like Novak, you are dead."
Yet Nadal seemed to put the setback behind him in light of an extraordinary comeback season that sees him returning to the top ranking for the first time since July 2011.
"I am back at the No. 1, something that I really thought that I would never have the chance to be back there," he said. "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."
This year's tournament was plagued by bad pollution in the Chinese capital, but Djokovic brushed aside its impact on the event.
"It's not ideal in terms of pollution. Yes, we've been talking about the weather conditions, but it is what it is, it's something that has been the same for the last few years that I've been coming back here," he said.
American Serena Williams meets Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in the women's final later Sunday.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.