A season that has seen a home-grown Wimbledon champion, an astonishing comeback to world No 1 and the defiance of Novak Djokovic cannot have everything.
And as it turned out, one missing ingredient was a thrilling climax when last night Djokovic fought off one last challenge from Rafael Nadal with surprising ease to defend his Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title yesterday in London.
Wimbledon apart, the unyielding Djokovic does not deal in fairy-tales for his opponents and he denied the 27-year-old Spaniard the perfect ending to his year by defeating him 6-3, 6-4 in the regular circuit’s last match of 2013.
Nadal has risen to just about every occasion since his return from what looked like career-threatening knee problems, but this was a rare exception.
Faced with the intimidating 26-year-old Serb, for once he appeared drained by his exertions, a step slow and possibly affected by those nagging patella tendons.
The contest was over in an hour and 36 minutes, way short of the epics that have frequently punctuated their huge tally of 39 career meetings.
Nadal has multiple consolations, such as the year-end No 1 ranking and two Grand Slams, but he leaves London without having achieved his goal of winning the one significant title that has eluded him so far.
Djokovic, who leads Serbia in the Davis Cup final next weekend, travels home to Belgrade £1.3million richer and with a 22-match winning streak to carry over into next season.
‘Next to the run I had in 2011 (43 consecutive wins) this is definitely the best I have ever played,’ said Djokovic, who admitted that the season had left him exhausted.
‘The most positive thing is that I regrouped after some big losses to Rafa in the Slams.’
The standards set by these two certainly go to show what a job Andy Murray has on his hands to add to his major titles, although it was only Djokovic who gave a vivid indication of that with his commanding performance last night.
He provided the evening’s one memorable touch of genius and it was the moment that turned the match. Leading 4-3 and with a break point, he reached a Nadal drive that had forced him way out of court and somehow managed to lob his opponent to set up a winning point that he finished with a reflex volley.
Try as he might, Nadal could not reach within himself to respond. Four double faults in the first set — brought on by the pressure of the Serb’s returns — cost him dearly, as did 23 unforced errors.
He never quite found a rhythm and his start was distinctly rocky, going down 0-3 before Djokovic seemed to get temporarily confused by the ease of it all and allowed him back in.
The Serb might have finished the match a bit earlier after gaining what proved the decisive break to go ahead 2-1 in the second.
Still, for Nadal to match up so well indoors against the world’s top eight was still a remarkable effort when one considers where he was a year ago.
‘I played against someone who was much better than me tonight,’ said the Spaniard, who described this as ‘the most emotional season of my career.’
Some quotes used in this story came from Associated Press.