For most of 2013, the ATP World Tour was a two-man show.
Appropriately, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic ended the year facing off in the last match of 2013, the final of the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Djokovic won the match handily, 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 36 minutes—a mere warm-up compared to their usual battle. Nadal, however, clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking earlier in the week, so both men could leave the last ATP event of the year with their heads held high.
The event only cemented their dominance over the rest of the tour. This season, Nadal went 75-7 with 10 titles and four runner-up finishes, while Djokovic went 72-9 with seven titles out of nine appearances in finals.
Overall, Nadal finished 2013 at the top of the Emirates ATP Rankings with 13,030 points, and Djokovic was just behind him with 12,110. Both men had more than twice the amount of points as No. 3 David Ferrer did, 5,800.
But it wasn't just the way that they staked their dominance over the rest of the field that impressed in 2013. Rather, it was the way they pushed their already-historic rivalry to even greater heights by building on their own legacies and once again bringing out the best in one another in blockbuster matches.
Nadal and Djokovic met six times in 2013 in four finals and two semifinals, all at Masters 1000s or Grand Slams. They were an even 3-3 in these meetings, bringing their overall head-to-head record to 22-17 in Nadal's favor.
The two didn't meet this year until April, but in clay season they picked right where they left off before Nadal was off the tour for seven months. They met in the Monte Carlo final, where Djokovic made a statement by ending Nadal's 18-match winning streak and eight-year reign as the champion of the Monte Carlo Masters by taking out Nadal 6-2, 7-6 in a fairly one-sided match that raised questions about Nadal's ability to continue his clay-court dominance.
But Nadal answered all of those questions and more the next time the two met, with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 victory over Djokovic in the French Open semifinals. The four-hour-and-37-minute epic that once again ended Djokovic's shot at the Career Slam was considered by many pundits to be the best clay-court match ever.
They next crossed paths during the summer in the U.S. Open Series, where Nadal once again survived Djokovic in a memorable 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2) semifinal at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, a match that made a statement about Nadal's hard-court form.
The Spaniard capped off his undefeated summer on hard courts by taking out Djokovic in the U.S. Open final, a physical and electric four-set affair that saw Nadal run away with it in the end, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
At that time—a mere two months ago—Nadal seemed to have taken firm control over his rivalry against Djokovic, who had not looked like his usual self-assured self in pressure situations all summer. But, as this rivalry has proven many times in the past, things are never one-sided between these two for long.
This fall, Djokovic has looked like the world-beater that he is. The Serb ended 2013 on a 22-match winning streak that included two Masters 1000 titles, the World Tour Finals trophy and two Davis Cup wins. He'll even have a chance to build on that next week, as Serbia hosts the Czech Republic in the Davis Cup final.
In that span he's beaten 12 top-10 players, including two decisive wins over Nadal—one on Monday in London and the other in the final of the China Open in October—that swung the momentum of the rivalry back in the Serb's direction.
This end of the season sets things up perfectly for 2014. Djokovic will start the year trying to win his fourth straight Australian Open title and get the No. 1 ranking back, while Nadal will be focused on keeping his spot at the top of the tennis world.
Luckily for us, the best days in the rivalry between Djokovic and Nadal are far from over. The two have already met an ATP-record 39 times, and since Nadal is 27 and Djokovic is 26, both have many competitive years ahead of them.
It's also important to note that, besides each other, they have very little consistent competition on the ATP Tour right now. Andy Murray, who beat Djokovic in the final of Wimbledon this year, is certainly capable of beating both of them, but he will be surrounded by question marks in 2014 after being off the tour since the U.S. Open with what was described as minor back surgery.
Roger Federer can never fully be counted out, and he did look much healthier at the end of 2013, but he is no longer a consistent threat at the top at his age. Similarly, Juan Martin del Potro's health and consistency are always up in the air, even if his talent is a given.
Players such as Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Ferrer are all capable of having world-beater days, but not on a week-in, week-out basis. And, as for the next generation of ATP talent, well, they haven't given Djokovic or Nadal any reason to fear for the future.
Things are setting up nicely for Nadal and Djokovic, or "Rafole" as fans like to call them, to continue to carry the ATP for years to come.
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