WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — When Novak Djokovic realized he was the Wimbledon champion, he fell to the ground and covered the grass like a blanket.
It was a fitting celebration for a man whose court coverage was the biggest reason he was able to defeat defending champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 in Sunday's final.
Djokovic, who was already guaranteed to take over the No. 1 ranking from the Spaniard on Monday, won his first Wimbledon title and extended his mastery over Nadal this season with a fifth straight head-to-head victory.
After shaking hands with Nadal at the net, Djokovic walked back out on court and crouched down. He pulled a blade or two of grass out of the manicured lawn and put it in his mouth.
"I felt like an animal," said Djokovic, who won his first grass-court title. "I wanted to see how it tastes. It tastes good."
Djokovic assured himself of the top ranking just by reaching the final. He opened the season with 41 straight wins, including the Australian Open title, but his 43-match winning streak ended against Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals.
"I managed to achieve a lifetime goal and I managed to make my dream come true, all in three days' time," said Djokovic, who tossed three of his rackets into the crowd before accepting the championship trophy. "It's just an incredible feeling that I'm never going to forget. This is the best day of my tennis career."
The victory over Nadal improved Djokovic's record in 2011 to 48-1, with five of the wins coming against the Spaniard in finals — two on hard courts, two on clay and now one on grass.
"He played better than me," said Nadal, the 2008 and '10 Wimbledon champion. "For that reason, he is the champion here."
Serbian President Boris Tadic was in the Royal Box along with several former champions to watch the match on Centre Court, and when Nadal sent a backhand long on match point, Djokovic turned to face them and dropped to the turf, lying on his back with his arms spread wide.
"I will definitely come for some more Wimbledons, more Grand Slam trophies. I mean, this is what I'm born for," Djokovic said. "I want to be a tennis champion. I want to win more Grand Slams."
During the match, it was Djokovic's incredible movement and precise shot placement that gave him the first two sets. His play dipped in the third, but it returned in the fourth to secure him a third Grand Slam title.
"The feelings that I had at that moment, I really don't know how to describe. Best feeling I had ever on the tennis court," Djokovic said. "Winning Wimbledon, looking at my box, 20 people, closest people to me in my life being there, supporting me, getting to share that moment and that experience with them was incredible."
Nadal had won 20 straight matches at the All England Club. The 10-time Grand Slam champion missed the 2009 tournament because of injury, but was playing in his fifth Wimbledon final in six years.
Nadal injured his left foot in a fourth-round win, but painkilling injections helped him roll through the next two rounds and into the final.
"Seriously, I lose because I am playing against the best player of the moment, the best player of the world tomorrow, and I am the second," Nadal said. "And when you play against these players and they are playing unbelievable, the normal thing is (to) lose."
Djokovic consistently landed shots while taking advantage of any slight miscue from Nadal. The first and biggest of the opening set came in the final game, when Djokovic hit a forehand winner down the line.
Nadal followed that with a pair of unforced errors, and the second-seeded Serb won the set on the first break point of the match.
Djokovic dominated the second set, breaking Nadal twice while holding serve easily. It wasn't until the second game of the third set that Nadal finally managed to do something with Djokovic's serve, breaking for a 2-0 lead when the Serb dumped a backhand into the net.
Nadal broke again and eventually won the set, and the two traded service breaks early in the fourth. But after Djokovic held to 4-3 in the final set with four straight points, Nadal double-faulted for the first time. He lost the next two points and soon was broken again when he sent a backhand long.
"He's doing great. He's doing a few things fantastic," Nadal said. "But I had to play better to win, and I didn't today. I played little bit less aggressive."
The loss to Djokovic on Sunday was Nadal's first in a major final to a player other than Federer.
"When I won in 2008 for the first time, the emotions was very high so I can imagine how (Novak feels) today," said Nadal, who lost to Federer in the 2006 and '07 finals. "It's a special day and another time I congratulate him."