(CNN) -- World No. 1 Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal for the sixth consecutive time to win his first U.S. Open title in dramatic style on Monday and avenge last year's final defeat by the Spaniard.
The Serbian triumphed in an epic lasting four hours and 10 minutes, defying his tiring body after Nadal fought magnificently to take the match to a fourth set.
The 6-2 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 6-1 scoreline did not reflect the intensity and closeness of the match in New York, the climax of the tennis season's fourth and final major tournament.
Both players battled to a standstill, but Djokovic had the edge when it mattered most as he claimed his fourth Grand Slam title and third this year, winning 146 points to Nadal's 122 .
The 24-year-old is now all-but certain to be the first player other than Nadal or Roger Federer to hold the year-end top ranking since Andy Roddick in 2003, and also took home the winner's check of $1.8 million.
As he did in the Wimbledon final in early July, Djokovic shell-shocked Nadal with his powerhouse play and subtle skills, coming back from 2-0 down in the first two sets.
Nadal did not relinquish his title without a fight, but was unable to convert eight of his 14 break-points in a see-saw match featuring many titanic rallies that thrilled the capacity crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I'm disappointed to lose, but Novak has been doing unbelievable things. What he has done this year will be impossible to repeat," world No. 2 said on-court after the match.
"We pushed our bodies to the limits. I tried to play aggressive but he was making fantastic comebacks. I fought for every ball."
Djokovic capitalized on 11 of his 26 break points, firing 55 winners to 32 while making 51 unforced errors to Nadal's 37.
Djokovic served for the title at 6-5 in the 84-minute third set, but Nadal broke back and took the tie-break in commanding style with just under three and a half hours on the clock.
Djokovic needed treatment on his back before winning the opening game of the fourth set, then took a full medical timeout before breaking Nadal's serve.
The halt in action seemed to extinguish the Mallorcan's renewed energy, and he fell to his 10th defeat in 15 hard-court encounters with Djokovic, who reduced his career deficit against Nadal to 13-16 as he won his 10th title of 2011.
It was third time lucky for Djokovic, who was beaten by Federer in the 2007 final at Flushing Meadows.