Djokovic lifts Indian Wells title
The unstoppable Serb shrugged off the loss of the opening set to outlast the world number one in a gripping match lasting two hours 25 minutes at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, extending his remarkable record for the year to 18-0.
Australian Open champion Djokovic, who overcame Swiss world number two Roger Federer in the last four, broke Nadal twice early in the final set before sealing victory when the Spanish left-hander netted a forehand.
It was the Serb's second triumph in the elite ATP Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells, having first won the title here as a 20-year-old in 2008.
"I am playing with a lot of confidence, I'm feeling the ball well on the court," third-seeded Djokovic said after celebrating victory by clenching both fists and yelling skywards. "I'm very dedicated.
"I have a big will to win each match I'm playing. It will not stop here, definitely. I want to keep on going, keep on playing good tennis."
During the trophy presentation, Djokovic congratulated Nadal on "a great tournament", before adding: "For me, you are the greatest player ever."
Nadal, the French Open, Wimbledon and U. Open champion, applauded the 23-year-old Serb for his third successive tournament win of the year.
"You started the season fantastic so all the best for the rest of the season," the Spaniard said after his own record for the year slipped to 14-3. "Well done. I lost today but I lost to one of the greatest."
Nadal was frustrated, though, after playing his best tennis of the tournament in the opening set before his service game fell apart.
"The first set I played really good, having the control of most of the points," the 24-year-old Mallorcan said.
"Then I started to serve really bad. I was thinking too much about the serve more than the game in that moment, so I stop a little bit the legs in that situation."
Nadal had a dismal first serve percentage of 25 in the second set and 42 throughout the match.
"I can't play with this percentage," he said. "Nobody can play with this percentage. So the serve was the difference today in my opinion."
The opening set went with serve until Nadal broke Djokovic in the fifth game but the Serb immediately broke back in the sixth, pumping his right fist in delight after hitting a backhand winner down the line.
However the Spaniard regained control by breaking Djokovic in the seventh, after his opponent dumped successive backhands into the net, to win the first set in 48 minutes.
The second set was almost a mirror image of the first with three successive breaks of serve paving the way for Djokovic to level the match.
He broke Nadal in the sixth game after the Spaniard hooked a forehand wide before failing to hold his own serve in the seventh.
The Serb immediately recovered, though, by again breaking in the eighth and he shook off a strong challenge by Nadal in the ninth, holding serve with his sixth set point after his opponent pushed a two-fisted backhand wide.
Roared on by flag-waving Serbian fans in the stadium's upper tier, Djokovic effectively closed the door on the Spaniard with service breaks in the first and third games of the final set.
The Serb fired down aces to hold serve in the fourth and sixth games before wrapping up victory in the eighth on his first match point when Nadal dumped a forehand into the net.