At the end of 2010, Novak Djokovic carried Serbia towards the first Davis Cup crown, a moment that served as a game-changer of his career together with solved health issues that had been bothering him for years. Rested and highly motivated, Novak conquered the tennis world in 2011, winning 70 out of 76 matches and claiming ten titles, including three Majors and five Masters 1000 crowns!
He became world no. 1 after going all the way at Wimbledon, and was the player to beat in the next five and a half years before starting to slow down following the first Roland Garros crown in 2016. Djokovic was almost picture-perfect until the US Open (he lost the ground after that, winning six of the last ten encounters by the end of the season), losing in the semi-final at Roland Garros to Roger Federer and retiring in the title match of Cincinnati to Andy Murray.
Novak was back at his best ahead of the US Open, where he claimed the fourth Major crown and became only the sixth player in the Open era with three Major titles in a single season, right after Nadal, who achieved that in the previous season.
The Spaniard was the biggest rival of the Serb in that historic season but couldn't match Novak's pace, finishing runner-up to him at four Masters 1000 finals and also in the title match at Wimbledon. These two were the last men standing at the US Open just like 12 months ago.
This time, it was Novak who clinched glory, beating Rafa 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 in four hours and ten minutes, making it one of the longest finals of the US Open ever, two years after four hours and six minutes clash between Juan Martin del Potro and Roger Federer.
While the Swiss and the Argentine battled for five sets, Rafa and Novak completed only 38 games in a grueling and fearsome battle that went back and forth until Novak took charge in set number four to bring the victory home.
Djokovic 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 encounter, playing some of his best tennis on the hard courts ever. Tables turned in 2011, though, and Novak had the upper hand on the return and in the crucial points, saving eight out of 14 break chances and stealing 50% of the return points to create unreal 27 break chances (what a difference in comparison to 2010!) and convert 12 to secure the victory in four sets for his first US Open crown after finishing runner-up in 2007 and 2010.
In 2011, Novak Djokovic took down Rafael Nadal for the first US Open title.
Novak did more damage with his first serve and especially with the first groundstroke, 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 rallies and stayed on the level terms with Nadal in the more extended exchanges to earn the triumph fair and square, adding another jewel to his 2011 crown.
It was their 29th meeting and it turned into quite a battle from the first game that Rafa claimed with a backhand winner. Novak netted an easy backhand in game two to give serve away, pulling the break back immediately when Nadal sent a forehand long.
Djokovic had to save three break points in the next game to level the score at 2-2, stealing Nadal's serve again with a well-constructed attack and holding after another deuce in game six to move 4-2 ahead. Rafa struggled to find the pace of his shots in service games, suffering 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, forging a 6-2 advantage 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, holding at love a few minutes later to level the score at 2-2. The momentum was now on his side, winning the third game in a row when Rafa hit a double fault in game five and holding with a service winner to forge a 4-2 advantage.
Nadal saved a break opportunity in the seventh game to hang in there before landing a backhand down the line winner to break Novak and lock the result at 4-4, ready to fight for every point until the end of the set. Nonetheless, Djokovic stayed calm and scored another break in game nine after forcing a backhand error from Rafa to serve for the set.
An outstanding forehand in that tenth game pushed Novak over the edge, moving 6-2, 6-4 in front after two hours and four minutes and putting one hand on the trophy. Nadal looked done and dusted when he sprayed a forehand error in the third game of the third set, only to break back in the next to keep himself in the match.
The problem was, Novak stood too strong on the return and clinched another break in game five to gain another lead before the Spaniard erased the deficit with a break at love with a forehand winner that kept him on the positive side of the scoreboard.
Djokovic repelled a break chance to level the score at 4-4, painting a backhand down the line winner at 5-5 to get a chance to grab a break and serve for the crown. In his one last push, Rafa broke back when Novak's forehand landed wide to set up a tie break.
He won it 7-3 after another forehand error from the Serb, getting his name on the scoreboard after a grueling three and a half hours and hoping for a complete turnaround. Djokovic received a medical timeout after the fourth set's opening game and broke in game two after a forehand down the line winner that made him the favorite.
A service winner sent Novak 3-0 up, and a smash winner moved him 4-1 in front and closer to the finish line. Rafa lost serve at love in game six and had nothing more left in the tank, with Novak sealing the deal after a forehand crosscourt winner at 5-1 to celebrate the title and lift his third Major crown of the season.