Unbeaten Novak Djokovic beats Rafa Nadal in Miami final
Novak Djokovic extended his unbeaten start to 2011 with a magnificent victory over world number one Rafael Nadal in the Sony Ericsson Open final.
The Serbian, 23, came through 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) to clinch his seventh Masters Series win, his fourth title of the year and take his 2011 record to 24-0.
It is the best start to a year in men's tennis since Ivan Lendl began with 25 consecutive victories in 1986.
An impressed Nadal said afterwards: "I think he'll be number one."
The Spaniard continued: "He won two tournaments in a row right now, very big tournaments and one Grand Slam.
"The normal thing is he will be number one in the next month, month and a half, two months. I don't know. It depends on my results on clay.
"For sure, he will be there, no? I'm going to fight for me. If I am solid, if I play a very good clay-court season, we will see what's going on after."
Djokovic said: "I know I've had the best start of the season, no question about it. It's the best four months in my life.
"But it's only the start of the season. I think it's a bit early to talk about getting that top spot in the rankings. Rafa is definitely the best player in the world now.
"If I want to have that shot at the number one ranking, I need to play consistently well throughout the whole year.
"We all know that clay court is his favourite surface and obviously somewhere where he plays his best.
"But this is going to give a lot of confidence boost for the upcoming clay-court season."
Djokovic is more than 1,000 ranking points clear of third-ranked Roger Federer but still a further 3,000 points behind Nadal.
However, the Spaniard has a huge number of ranking points to defend, having won all the major clay tournaments last year.
Whether Djokovic is ready to surpass Nadal on clay remains open to question but after defeating his closest rival in back-to-back Masters Series finals over the last fortnight, there is no doubt he is the man to beat right now.
Nadal had won the opening set of their Indian Wells final two weeks ago before Djokovic came storming back and Sunday's match in Miami followed a similar pattern.
A blustery wind hampered both men in the opening stages, with Nadal coping marginally better and grabbing the first break in game three before seeing off three break points in the following game.
When Djokovic slapped a forehand into the tramlines to fall a double break down the set was as good as done but from 5-1 down he began to find his range.
His more aggressive style had Nadal on the run and although the Spaniard did seal the set, Djokovic reeled off six of seven games to move 3-0 clear in the second and serve out to force a decider.
After two sets of uneven play, the final set showcased the very best of the world's top two players, with each man appearing to grab the momentum only for his opponent to wrestle it back.
Nadal's backhand was unusually proving his more potent wing, while a couple of sublime lobs and numerous confident sorties to the net demonstrated how Djokovic's game has come on.
Neither man could force a break point in a pulsating set and the resultant tie-break opened in equally dramatic fashion with five consecutive points against serve.
It was a double fault from Nadal that proved crucial as he fell 3-2 down before Djokovic finally held a service point and, after the Spaniard saved two match points on serve, the world number two sealed victory after three hours and 21 minutes with a big serve followed up by a crunching forehand into the corner.
"It was such a close match," said Djokovic. "To win against the number one player of the world in a tie-break in the third set, it's just incredible.
"This is one of the best matches I've played in a while. I was able to find my rhythm at the end of the first set, and then throughout the whole second and third set I played quite well, especially on my service games."
Djokovic last suffered a singles defeat against Roger Federer in the ATP World Tour semi-finals in London last November and has now won 26 matches in a row, including 24 this year.