NEW YORK -- Novak Djokovic produced a nearly perfect performance to match his nearly perfect season.
Returning brilliantly, swatting winners from all angles, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic held on to beat defending champion Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-1 on Monday night in a final chock-full of lengthy, mesmerizing points to earn his first U.S. Open title and third Grand Slam trophy of 2011.
Djokovic improved to 64-2 with 10 tournament titles in a simply spectacular year, one of the greatest in the history of men's tennis -- or any sport, for that matter.
He's been perfect against No. 2 Nadal, too, going 6-0 head-to-head, all in finals -- three on hard courts, including Monday; two on clay; and one on grass at Wimbledon in July. Djokovic also won the Australian Open in January, and is only the sixth man in the 40-plus years of the Open era to collect three major titles in a single season.
Nadal did it in 2010, including a victory over Djokovic in the U.S. Open final. But the rematch was more of a mismatch, even if Nadal led 2-0 in each of the first two sets before Djokovic turned things around.
Only in the third set did Djokovic really falter for a few moments, getting broken while serving for the match at 6-5, then being outplayed in the tiebreaker. He was treated by a trainer for an aching back three times after that, getting massaged and taking pills to dull the pain.
But in the fourth set, Djokovic was in control from the start, breaking in the opening game with a forehand winner, then cruising from there.
When Djokovic ended it with a forehand winner, he raised his arms, then tossed aside his racket and dropped to the court. He pulled off his shirt and threw it into the stands, then put on a dark hat with "FDNY" written on it -- a nod to Sunday's 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which both he and Nadal mentioned during the trophy ceremony.