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The last stand from Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic celebrates after his win in the final of the China Open

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic signed off in style as world number 1 beating Rafael Nadal in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the China Open – a 500 series event on the ATP tour this past Sunday.

It was a final parting shot delivered by the Serb in full knowledge of the fact that he would no longer be the top-ranked player come Monday.

Ever since his win at the Australian Open at the beginning of the year, it has been a strange sort of year for Djokovic. Despite being the top-ranked player in the world, he rarely received as much attention as some of his contemporaries. He was overshadowed at various times during the year and was not the player that people were talking about, which is usually the norm with world number 1s.

Going into the Australian Open, Djokovic was going for his fourth title overall at Melbourne Park and third in a row, yet Andy Murray seemed to be the focus after his defeat of Djokovic at Flushing Meadows in the final major of 2012 to claim his maiden Grand Slam.

His victory quietened down the noise around his competitors to an extent, but it remained for just a few fleeting moments as news slowly trickled out from halfway around the world that a certain Mallorcan from the island of Manacor was pulling up his socks and tying up his shoelaces all ready to make a comeback on the ATP tour.

The threat of Nadal returning to the courts marked a significant development on the ATP calendar this year, for though almost everybody knew that he was going to come back, the anxiety remained over how well he would fare.

Djokovic would have seen Nadal’s return as a very clear and marked threat, but even he would not have in his wildest dreams predicted the Spaniard to have quite such a rollicking season after a near eight-month injury-enforced sabbatical away from the game.

So starting late February, much of the microscopic lens was on the returning Nadal, tracking his every move. Djokovic started the year with 17 straight wins, yet not many will remember that now. That in itself is testament to how incredible Nadal’s run has been.

That 17-match winning streak ended at the hands of a towering Argentine called Juan Martin Del Potro in the semi-finals of the Indian Wells Masters 1000 event. It took a high-quality performance from Del Potro to oust Djokovic and that match will go down as one of the best of the year for the sheer quality of game that both displayed.

As the clay court season came around, Nadal had gotten into his groove with victories at Acapulco and Indian Wells to add further momentum at a time where he normally ushers in his dominance every year.

Djokovic outclassed Nadal in the final at Monte Carlo, the first Masters 1000 event on clay for the year, and a tournament where Nadal had won eight times on the trot. Nadal may have been only a few months into his comeback, but beating him at one of his strongest bastions was a huge achievement.

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