At the end of 2010, Novak Djokovic had helped Serbia to win the first Davis Cup crown and this was a game changer of his career together with solved health issues that have been bothering him since the start of his pro career.
Rested and highly motivated, Novak conquered the tennis world in 2011, winning 70 out of 76 matches and claiming 10 titles, including three Majors and five Masters 1000 crowns! He had become world number 1 after winning Wimbledon and he was pretty much the player to beat in the next five and a half years as well before he started to slow down after lifting his first Roland Garros crown in 2016.
Djokovic was almost picture perfect until the US Open (he lost the ground after that, winning just six of the last 10 matches he played by the end of the season), losing in the semi-final of Roland Garros against Roger Federer and retiring in the title match of Cincinnati against Andy Murray.
Novak was back at his best by the US Open, winning his fourth Grand Slam crown and becoming only the sixth player in the Open era with three Major titles in a single season, with Nadal doing that in the previous season. The Spaniard was the biggest rival of the Serb in that historic season but he was unable to match Novak's pace, losing to Novak in four Masters 1000 finals and also in the title match at Wimbledon.
These two have met in the final of the US Open, just like 12 months ago, and this time it was Novak who clinched glory, beating Rafa 6-2 6-4 6-7 6-1 in four hours and 10 minutes, making it one of the longest finals of the US Open ever, just two years after four hours and six minutes clash between Juan Martin del Potro and Roger Federer.
While the Swiss and the Argentinian had battled for five sets, Rafa and Novak completed just 38 games but the encounter was so intense and exciting they had to stay on the court for more than four hours. Novak had to work hard against Janko Tipsarevic in the quarters and especially versus Federer in the semis, staying on the court for almost four hours and fending off two matches points against the five-time champion, becoming the first US Open winner since Andy Roddick in 2003 who had to save a match point en route to the title.
In 2010, the Serb made too many errors against super aggressive Nadal who faced four break points in the entire match, playing some of his best tennis on the hard courts ever. Tables had turned in 2011, though, and Novak had the upper hand on the return and in the crucial points, saving eight out of 14 break points and stealing 50% of the return points to create unreal 27 break chances (what a difference compared to 2010!) and convert 12 to secure the win in four sets for his first US Open crown after losing in the final in 2007 and 2010.
Novak did more damage with his first serve and especially with the first groundstroke that made a lot of difference, improving his forehand a lot since the previous final to dominate Nadal from the baseline. The backhand advantage was also on Djokovic's side, opening the court and moving Rafa from the comfort zone, forcing him to play from the awkward positions.
Djokovic had a clear advantage in the shortest points and he stayed on the level terms with Nadal in the longer exchanges to earn his win fair and square and add another jewel to his crown. This was their 29th meeting and it turned into quite a battle from the very first game that Rafa claimed with a backhand winner.
Novak netted an easy backhand in game two to give his serve away but he pulled the break back immediately when Nadal sent a forehand long in game three. Djokovic had to save three break points in game four to level the score at 2-2 and he stole Nadal's serve in the following game with a well-constructed attack, holding after another deuce in game six to move 4-2 ahead.
Rafa was clearly struggling to find the pace of his shots in service games and he suffered another break to fall 5-2 down when his backhand found the net, leaving Novak to serve for the opener. The Serb grabbed it with a hold at love, leading 6-2 after 53 minutes and looking eager to topple the great rival once again that season.
Rafa was there to fight, though, firing a forehand down the line in the second game of the second set to break Novak and create the gap just like in the first set. After another marathon game and numerous break and game points, Novak broke back when Nadal netted an easy smash and he held at love in the following game to level the score at 2-2.
The momentum was on his side and he won the third game in a row when Rafa hit a double fault in game five, holding with a service winner in the game that followed to jump into a 4-2 lead. Nadal saved a break point in the seventh game to hang in there and he landed a backhand down the line winner to break Novak and level the score at 4-4, ready to fight for every point.
Nonetheless, Djokovic stayed calm and he scored another break in game nine after forcing a backhand error from Rafa to serve for the set in the next game. An outstanding forehand in game 10 pushed Novak over the edge and he was 6-2 6-4 up after two hours and four minutes, moving a set away from the first US Open crown.
Nadal looked done and dusted when he sprayed a forehand error in the third game of the third set but he broke back in the next game to keep himself in the match. The problem was, Novak stood too strong on the return and he clinched another break in game five to gain another lead before the Spaniard erased the deficit with a break at love in game six when his forehand found an empty space.
Djokovic saved a break point to level the score at 4-4, painting a backhand down the line winner at 5-5 to get a chance to serve for the crown. In his one last push, Rafa broke back when Novak's forehand landed wide to set up a tie break that he won 7-3 after another forehand error from the Serb, getting his name on the scoreboard after a grueling three and a half hours.
Djokovic received a medical timeout after the opening game of the fourth set and he broke in game two after a forehand down the line winner that made him the favorite once again. A service winner sent Novak 3-0 up and a smash winner moved him 4-1 up and closer and closer to the finish line.
Rafa was broken at love in game six and he had nothing more left in the tank, with Novak sealing the deal with a forehand cross court winner in game seven to celebrate the title and lift his third Major crown of the season.