Two days after being usurped as world number one, Djokovic exacted some revenge on his great rival for his US Open final defeat last month with a straight-sets victory in Beijing.
It was the Serbian's fourth triumph in five years at the what he describes as a "special" tournament, but Djokovic reserved some congratulations for Nadal's recent achievement in his post-match victory speech.
"It's definitely one of the most special places and tournaments in my career," Djokovic told reporters. "Tennis has become more and more popular over the past few years and it is brilliant to play here.
"I have to say congratulations to Rafa. He deserves definitely to be number one this season. He deserves it, no doubt, for his amazing form."
It is the first time that Nadal, who won the French Open as well as the title at Flushing Meadows in 2013, has been top of the world rankings since July 2011.