WORLD No1 Rafael Nadal was gracious in defeat after Novak Djokovic successfully retained his ATP World Tour Finals title in straight sets at the O2 Arena last night, glad to be involved again having frustratingly watched from the sidelines 12 months ago with a career-threatening injury.
Nadal, who has never won the season finale, saved two match points before finally succumbing 6-3, 6-4 as Djokovic recorded his 22nd consecutive victory and scooped $1.9m (£1.2m) in prize money.
The Spaniard missed last year’s event with tendinitis, which also ruled him out of the US Open, Australian Open and London 2012 Olympic Games.
His return, in February, after seven months out was emphatic though, as victories at the French and US Open championships took his overall grand slam haul to 13.
Nadal missed the chance of a fairytale ending to an astonishing 2013 last night, but spoke of his delight at being able to compete at the top level so soon after his knee problem.
“This has been the most emotional season of my career,” said Nadal, who claimed a runner-up prize of $1m (£633,000). “After injury I couldn’t be here last year and I missed it a lot. But this has been one of the best seasons of my career.
“I didn’t have a chance to win because I played a player who was better than me. Congratulations to a super player like Novak.”
In the first final between the world No1 and two in the 44-year history of the event, Djokovic broke serve at the earliest opportunity as Nadal paid the price for two backhand errors.
Trailing 3-0, Nadal then broke back, but a double fault at 3-4 handed the initiative to Djokovic who served out the set.
The Serbian star, who plays in the Davis Cup final against Tomas Berdych’s Czech Republic on Friday, broke again early in the second set to go 2-1 up, but big serves from Nadal saved two break points at 4-2.
Djokovic’s next chance came at 5-3 on Nadal’s serve with a match point, though the Spaniard showed resilience to force another game.
And after letting another championship point slip away, Djokovic eventually took his seventh title of 2013 when Nadal hit a forehand wide.
“What a great place to finish the year in a city that has nurtured tennis for such a long time,” said the champion.
“You may see us playing alone on the court, but the big success comes from the team behind us.”