There was a certain déjà vu about the storyline that could unfold on the emerald sward of Wimbledon.
In the run-up to what most anticipated would be a dream final, the top spot was ready to shift from one of these players to the other.
Between them and their fifth final of the year, however, were two men peaking at just the right time to make their own claim on the greatest prize in the tennis year.
Roger Federer had brought Djokovic’s 43-match run to a halt in the semifinals of Paris and was becoming many pundits’ favorite to take his seventh Wimbledon title.
Andy Murray had challenged Nadal on the clay of Monte Carlo and Djokovic on the clay of Rome. He had also just won the biggest grass title outside Wimbledon at Queen’s.
This same quartet had filled 13 of the 16 semifinal places in the last four slams, including all four at the French Open, so it looked a tough ask for anyone else to intrude on their battle ground.
By the time the draw had whittled down to 16, everything was still laid out to perfection—and this month’s Power Rankings are filled by 10 of those 16.
For the connoisseurs, there were the big four: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray.
For the fourth Wimbledon in a row, unseeded players also had a toehold: Feliciano Lopez and Xavier Malisse.
Then there was the added spice of two qualifiers: Lukasz Kubot at the older end of the scale, 29, and Bernard Tomic at the younger extreme, 18.
There were serve-and-volleyers and all-courters, there were men new to the top 10 such as Mardy Fish and men fighting back to the top 10 such as Juan Martin del Potro.
There were zesty rematches of notorious battles. Murray and Richard Gasquet in a replay of their last two Grand Slam meetings, both five-set thrillers.
There was also old-school tennis between old adversaries. Federer in his 13th straight Wimbledon against Mikhail Youzhny in his 11th, both aged 29, both with a silky, single-handed backhand.
To cap it all, the match between Nadal and Del Potro threatened to sideline both men with injury. In the end, they played out one of the contests of the tournament—45 games containing just 37 unforced errors and over 100 winners.
The greatest drama, though, was saved for the very last day. When Djokovic finally led Nadal into the colosseum of Centre Court, he had already won the first battle in the war for tennis dominance.
By Monday morning, Novak would be No. 1 in the world.
Now he was aiming to become the first man in nine years not named Nadal or Federer to win the most coveted of titles.
He had only to beat the current champion, unbeaten in 20 straight matches at Wimbledon and the holder of 10 Grand Slams, the man Djokovic himself had, at Indian Wells, called “the best player ever.”
But what Nadal saw across the net, in the cold light of this particular London afternoon, was a different Djokovic from the one he had beaten at the U.S. Open—their last Grand Slam final.
The Serb had since won the Australian Open and all four Masters they had contested. He had lost only one match all year, and he had won seven of the eight tournaments he had entered.
This single match would play out, in real time, the shift in the power balance from Nadal to the new “best.”
And in an appropriate convergence of landmark achievements, we salute Djokovic, Wimbledon champion, No. 1 in the world and leader of this month’s Power Rankings.