The Serb was already defeated in the battle for the place at the top of the rankings heading into Sunday's China Open final but showed real defiance in beating his great rival in straight sets.
Having lost six of their previous seven meetings, it was a significant psychological victory and typified a man who has going down swinging in his nature.
While the season's eighth Masters 1000 event brings together all the realistic contenders for the ATP World Tour Finals with exception of the injured Andy Murray, it would be a surprise if we don't see another chapter in the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry on finals Sunday.
Sky Bet go 5/6 that the duo will meet again, with reigning champion Djokovic evens favourite for the title followed by Nadal at 6/4.
Plenty are likely to be tempted by the Spaniard at the larger price given the fact that he has reached 13 finals from 14 tournaments since his comeback began.
However, it could be suggested that the realisation of his dream to return to the top of the game resulted in a lull, as he was not only well beaten in the final but struggled en route.
The US Open triumph meant that top spot was inevitable and it will now take a significant change in fortunes for him not to still be there come the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer is considered the joint third favourite with recent Japan Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro as he looks to get back on track.
Hardcourt is our surface in Shanghai. More specifically it is DecoTurf, rated medium paced by the ITF, which is also used on the American hard swing. While it is an outdoor event there is a rather aesthetically-pleasing roof on hand for rainy days, which had to be used on the opening day.
As aforementioned, rain hampered Monday's play but is expected to make way for sunshine for the remainder of the week, with temperatures in the mid-20s (°C).
After cruising through the field with a string of straight-sets wins, Djokovic had to save five match points against Murray before eventually prevailing in three. The Serb won 5-7 7-6 (11-9) 6-3 in three hours and 21 minutes to avenge his US Open final loss against the reigning champion and land his first title in Shanghai.
The contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Novak Djokovic (evens)
It has been a relatively mixed period for the Serb, coming out on the losing end of a string of the season's big battles. A five-set loss to Nadal at the French, a Wimbledon final defeat to Murray and then another runner-up finish to the Spaniard in New York has ultimately seen his status as the game's top player ended. However, the mental resolve that divides Djokovic from the majority saw him respond defiantly on Sunday. While the term 'having little more than pride to play for' is typically a derisory one, little else is needed to bring the best out of this great battler. Djokovic bounced back from his five-set loss to Murray at the US Open last year by clearing up on the Asian swing and he looks in the mood to do so again.
Rafael Nadal (6/4)
The Spaniard will be looking to improve a disappointing record in Shanghai, having lost to Nikolay Davydenko (F), Jurgen Melzer (R16) and Florian Mayer (R16) before missing the end of last season. Indeed, he has not beaten a top-10 player in his three visits, with the tail end of the year is typically a humbling time for the Spaniard, having also failed to ever win the World Tour Finals. The sheer amount of tennis played must surely be catching up with him and I'm going to suggest now is the time to oppose the newly-crowned world number one.
Roger Federer (14/1)
If there is ever going to be somebody capable of bouncing back from a tough spell then it is surely Federer. The Swiss star has confidence reserves from the greatest career the sport has ever seen, but whether, at 32 years of age, he can regain the physical edge over his rivals remains to be seen. The slump has seen him slip down to seventh in the world rankings and he is in serious danger of missing out on the World Tour Finals, so the motivation is certainly there. Richard Gasquet is one of the men targeting the remaining places and could await in the round of 16 while Djokovic's presence in his quarter is another blow to his chances. However, ultimately Federer's hopes of returning to the very upper echelons of the game sit with his ability to rediscover the sort of consistency that has deserted him over recent months.
Juan Martin del Potro - 14/1
The powerful Argentinian may have racked up his 13th career title in Japan on Sunday but it does little to indicate he is ready to take down the game's top names. As with his two previous triumphs this year, he did not need to beat a top-10 player in Tokyo. Indeed, Del Potro has never won a Masters 1000 event, losing both finals contested. For that reason any bets on him must be of the each-way variety, but getting to the final is certainly achievable given Tomas Berdych, who withdrew with a back problem in last week, is in his quarter.
Best of the rest
Berdych is next in the betting at 28/1 but backing him without evidence of the back injury being cleared up is incomprehensible. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the same price and is clear of his knee problem but has posted indifferent results since his comeback, losing to Gilles Simon in the Metz final and then Ivan Dodig in Tokyo. David Ferrer follows at 40/1 but continues to perform below par, with it looking a matter of time before his place in the top four comes to an end, while US Open quarter-finalist Stanislas Wawrinka and Milos Raonic offer more interest at 40/1 apiece, with the latter reaching three finals from his last five events. Richard Gasquet is a hefty price but could not have asked for a worse draw, while a place in the quarter-finals would be a significant achievement for any of the rest of the field.