The players were seeded first and second respectively, but Nadal would replace Djokovic as world number regardless of who won the match.
Djokovic was the defending champion in Beijing, but would he be able to defeat his great rival and retain his title? Find out by revisiting the action with our blow-by blow text updates below.
8.59amHello and thanks for joining Sports Mole to see if Djokovic can win the China Open for the fourth time in five years.
9amStanding in his way is Nadal, who has been in sensational form this season, winning 65 of 68 matches since returning from seven-month absence due to a left knee injury in February.
9.01amThis is the Spaniard's 13th final appearance of the campaign, but, despite his incredible winning form, the bookmakers have made him the slight outsider to win this match.
9.02amNadal is available at a biggest price of 6/5 with Betway, while BetVictor offer best value on Djokovic with odds of 5/6.
9.03amThose odds are somewhat surprising, considering that the 27-year-old is unbeaten in 20 matches and has a 22-15 winning head-to-head record against Novak in what is now the most-contested fixture in the Open era.
9.05amDjokovic's tag of narrow-favourite might be down to the fact that he is due to been replaced as world number one - an angry Novak is certainly a dangerous Novak.
9.06amThe Serb has also been in top form this week, beating Lukas Rosol (6-0 6-3), Fernando Verdasco (7-5 2-6 6-2), Sam Querrey (6-1 6-2) and Richard Gasquet (6-4 6-2) en route to today's final.
9.07amMeanwhile, Nadal's path to the final saw him overcome Santiago Giraldo (6-2 6-4), Philipp Kohlschreiber (6-4 7-6), Fabio Fognini (2-6 6-4 6-1) and Tomas Berdych (4-2* retired).
9.08amNadal came rather close to a shock quarter-final exit when he trailed Fognini 2-6 2-4. However, he responded like a true champion, winning 11 of the next 12 games to book his place in the last four, where Berdych could only contest 38 points before retiring hurt.
9.09amRafa appeared to be struggling with a knee problem after falling early on against Fognini. Perhaps that is another factor that the bookies have considered? However, he seemed untroubled during his brief semi-final against Berdych.
9.11amI hate to argue with the bookies, but I'm going to PREDICT a win for Rafa, who has won six of the last seven matches against the Novak. Regardless of who comes out on top, I see this one going the distance.
9.12amDjokovic has won the toss. He will serve first. GAME ON!
Djokovic *0-0 NadalSolid start by Novak, who races to 30-0 as Rafa thunders a backhand return into the net before firing a forehand return long.
Djokovic 1-0* NadalDjokovic slices into the net to give Rafa hope at 30-15, but the Serb then quickly resumes his dominance with some thunderous ball-striking to hold to 15.
Djokovic 1-0* NadalExcellent length from Nadal's forehand sees the Spaniard move ahead in game two, but he then fires long before Djokovic cracks a clean cross cross-court winner to level things up. 30-30.
Djokovic *2-0 NadalDJOKOVIC BREAKS: Novak lands another fierce cross-court drive. It's called out, but he challenges and hawk-eye shows half the ball caught the line. The point is replayed and won by the Serb, who then converts his first break point.
Djokovic 4-1* NadalA perfect hattrick of winners from Djokovic - backhand, forehand and dropshot - move him 40-0 ahead in game five. Rafa's return then lands long to hand Novak his second consecutive love hold.
Djokovic 4-1* NadalA double fault puts Rafa under further pressure, but an overhead winner followed by two Djokovic errors hand the Spaniard two game points. 40-15.
Djokovic *4-2 NadalRafa wastes his first game point by driving long, but, much to his relief, he manages to close out the game to 30 when Novak attacks a short seconds serve and fires narrowly wide.
Djokovic 5-2* NadalNovak is serving imperiously. He holds to love, meaning that he has now won 16 of 17 service points so far today.
Djokovic *5-3 NadalNovak senses blood at 30-30, but Rafa then produces two huge first serves to hold and keep the set alive.
Djokovic 6-3 0-0* NadalFIRST SET DJOKOVIC! The Serb has bossed the match so far, winning 28 of 44 points, and, after 35 minutes, he takes the opening set by holding to 15.
Djokovic 6-3 0-0* NadalWorryingly for Rafa, in the 37 previous meetings between these players, the individual who loses the first set has only gone on to win the match on five occasions.
Djokovic 6-3 0-0* NadalThe Spaniard is immediately under pressure in set two as a forehand error, which is confirmed by hawk-eye, levels his service game at 30-30. Nadal then earns game point with a backhand put-away at the net following a stunning exchange. However, he fails to convert. 40-40.
Djokovic 6-3 *1-0 NadalDJOKOVIC BREAKS: Two more game points come and go for Nadal, who then loses his serve for the second time today when he pats a tame forehand into the net.
Djokovic 6-3 2-0* NadalPainful viewing for Nadal fans. Rafa looked to be in control at 40-15, but in the blink of an eye he is now break point down following his second double fault of the match.
Djokovic 6-3 *2-1 NadalNovak comes up with a loose volley at the net, as he spurns the first break point. Rafa then offers another, which is also saved, before the Spaniard grittily holds to 40.
Djokovic 6-3 3-1* NadalDjokovic delivers his fourth ace. It wins him another love service game. He has now won 24 service points and lost just two.
Djokovic 6-3 *3-2 NadalNadal responds in kind, holding to love for the first time since game four. The crowd are a bit flat. This is not the sort of match that we have come to expect from these two. With the break in hand, Djokovic appears happy to conserve his energy and attempt to get things done on his own serve.
Djokovic 6-3 4-2* NadalAnd he is doing just that. Rafa wins his third returning point of the match to give him some hope at the start of game 15, but normal service is soon resumed as the top seed holds to 30.
Djokovic 6-3 5-3* NadalA backhand mishit levels the game, before Rafa fails to return Novak's big first serve and then fires a spinning forehand just wide. Djokovic holds to 30. The end is nigh.
Djokovic 6-3 *5-4 NadalRafa forces Novak to serve for the match by holding to 30. It's now or never for the Spaniard. He hasn't done anything to suggest a comeback is on the cards, but anything is possible when the 13-time Grand Slam champ is involved.
10.41amNovak proves that he is still number one in Southeast Asia as he beats his great rival in straight sets to win the China Open for a fourth time in five years.
10.42amRafa will replace Novak as world number one on Monday morning, but the Serb could well regain his crown before the season concludes in November.
10.43amTwo breaks of serve were enough for Novak, who dropped just six service points, winning 40 in the process. The match lasted 87 minutes.
10.44amNext up for these two is a trip to Shanghai, where Djokovic beat Andy Murray in last year's final.
10.47amNadal is all smiles as he is presented with his runner-up shield and a big green stuffed toy.
10.48amDjokovic now receives his golden trophy, inside which is a yellow teddy with red boots.
10.51amRafa, speaking on court: "I played against too good an opponent. Congratulations to Novak on a very good season and an excellent display. He played much better than me today so he deserved to win."
10.54amNovak on Beijing: "It's definitely one of the most special places and tournaments in my career. Tennis has become more and more popular over here in the past few years and it is brilliant to play here."
10.57amOn being overtaken by Nadal in the world rankings, the Serb adds: "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."