Nadal deservedly ends the year on top of the rankings after an incredible comeback from injury but Djokovic delivered an ominous show of force at the O2 Arena, running the man who replaced him as world number one ragged. (Agencies)
It was a one hour, 36 minute masterclass in power and precision from Djokovic and if anything the 6-3 6-4 scoreline flattered Nadal, who spent most of the match dancing to his opponent's tune.
After a week of sell-out crowds at the spectacular Thames-side arena it was fitting that the world's top two players should meet for the 39th time in the most prolific rivalry in the modern era and one that is eclipsing the great battles between Nadal and Roger Federer.
Both players had won all their round-robin matches before cruising through Sunday's semi-finals.
Nadal was bidding to land the title for the first time to cap a year that saw him roar back to the top of the rankings with 10 titles, including the U.S. Open and French Open, while Djokovic was finishing the season like a runaway steamroller since losing to Nadal in the Flushing Meadows final.
Apart from a few jaw-dropping rallies, however, the fireworks were confined to those that lit up the court as Djokovic got his hands on the trophy named in honour of the late ATP executive chairman Brad Drewett, who died this year.
"Look, the year-end number one is deservedly in Nadal's hands because he had two grand slam wins, the best season out of all players, the most titles," said Djokovic, who in capturing the title for a third time stretched his winning run to 22.
"But next to the run that I had in 2011, this is definitely the second best I've had," he told reporters.
"The most positive thing that I can take from this two and a half months is the fact that I managed to regroup after a few big losses after Nadal, especially Roland Garros, U.S. Open final and Wimbledon final,” he said.
"I've worked harder and played better, become an even more skilful player. This is definitely the best possible way that I can finish the season," added Djokovic, who next week will lead Serbia against the Czech Republic in the Davis Cup final.
Nadal tried to put a brave face on his defeat. "I think at the beginning he was playing much better than me, the first three games no doubt," the Spaniard said.
Nadal deservedly ends the year on top of the rankings after an incredible comeback from injury but Djokovic delivered an ominous show of force at the O2 Arena, running the man who replaced him as world number one ragged.