China Open: Novak Djokovic hits back after loss of No 1 by halting Rafael Nadal’s run

Spaniard suffers first hard-court defeat of the year in Beijing

Rafael Nadal will return to the head of the world rankings today for the first time for more than two years, but the man he replaces served notice yesterday of his intention to do his utmost to reclaim the top spot. Nadal regained the No 1 position by reaching the final of the China Open in Beijing, only for Novak Djokovic to end his run of three successive defeats by the Spaniard. Djokovic retained his unbeaten record in four visits to the Beijing tournament by beating Nadal 6-3, 6-4.

t was a hugely impressive response by Djokovic to losing the world No 1 ranking, which he has held for the last 11 months. Nadal had won all 27 of his matches on hard courts this year and had beaten Djokovic in their previous three meetings – in the semi-finals of the French Open and Montreal Masters and in the final of the US Open – but was swept aside in just 87 minutes by an awesome display of serving power. It was Nadal’s first defeat since Wim-bledon and Djokovic’s first title since the Monte Carlo Masters in April.

Djokovic, who dropped only seven points on his serve in the whole match, said his game had benefited from playing doubles alongside Stanislas Wawrinka earlier in the week. He added: “I also showed emotional stability. In the crucial moments I managed to stay tough and not drop my concentration, which I think I did in both Montreal and the US Open. I learned my lesson.

“It was very tough to lose those close matches against Rafa on hard courts, especially the last one in the US Open final. 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.”

Nadal said Djokovic had simply been too good for him. “I didn’t see a way to stop him this afternoon,” the Spaniard said. “I didn’t play my best match, but he played at a very high level with his serve. I was not able to have any chance when I was returning during the whole match.

“He had the ball staying very low. It was very difficult to create spin on this ball. He was able to hit all the balls where he wanted to hit them. When that’s happening against a player like Novak, you are dead. You don’t have a chance.”

It was only the fourth defeat – the second of them at the hands of Djokovic – since Nadal began his extraordinary comeback in February after seven months off the court with a knee injury.

He has won 10 titles and failed to reach the final in only one of the 14 tournaments he has played this year. The exception was Wimbledon, where he lost in the first round.

Nadal looks certain to retain the No 1 position for a good while. Because of his lay-off, he has no ranking points to defend until February, which means that every match he wins will add to his points total.

Djokovic, in contrast, will be hard pushed not to drop points in the coming months as he is the reigning champion at three major events. The 26-year-old Serb will be defending 1,000 points at this week’s Shanghai Rolex Masters, 1,500 points at next month’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and 2,000 points at the Australian Open in January.

However, Nadal insisted: “I need to keep playing well to try to finish No 1 at the end of the season, but that’s not something that worries me much today. I’ve come back to the No 1 position, something that I really thought that I would never have the chance to do. I am there and it’s something special for me.”

Serena Williams claimed her 10th singles trophy of the year when she beat Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-2 in the women’s final in Beijing. The world  No 1 has earned more than $9m (£5.6m) in prize money in a season in which she has already won 73 matches.

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