It’s almost fitting that the two best players of 2011, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, meet tomorrow in Miami men’s final, the last hardcourt match played until July.
They are the undisputed top two players in the world and some would say, provided that Djokovic wins, they may swap those ranking positions later this season.
But first before that happens they’ll play for a 25th time on Sunday.
Last night it was Nadal dusting an old-looking Roger Federer 6-3, 6-2 in a match that wasn’t even that close. Andy Roddick said a week ago that it was “ridiculous” to criticize Federer’s game, but that was before last night’s demolition.
I thought Nadal would win but I didn’t think it would be one of his easiest victories he’s had in Miami, and one of the most lopsided these two legends have played together.
As Federer said in the press, on a slow hardcourt, which I call his new worst surface, he simply cannot hit through the court against the likes of Rafa and Novak. At 29, Federer just doesn’t have the power he use to have off the ground nor does he have the quickness and consistency needed to stay with and retrieve the punishing groundstrokes off Rafa’s racquet.
For Nadal, he played his usual great tennis and now leads Federer 15-8 in their head-to-head. And while much has been made about his 10-2 advantage on clay, it’s worth pointing out that on an outdoor hardcourt Nadal now leads Federer 4-1 with the only loss coming when, as a teenager, he choked a 2-set lead in the 2005 Miami final.
“Playing the final even without play my best in Indian Wells was very important for my confidence, and I started this week playing much better,” Nadal said. “Since the first round I was playing I think very, very good. I didn’t have a good draw; last week I think I had a better draw than this week. This week I had a tough draw. In general, I think I played a very good week. Now remains one match.”
Nadal may be playing sublime tennis, but Djokovic has remained on another level. He is playing the best tennis of anyone and when we look back at this run, this may very well be the best tennis he’ll ever play! I thought after Indian Wells that he’d finally let down in Miami but he just hasn’t. In fact he may be getting better!
Yesterday, Djokovic destroyed Mardy Fish 6-3, 6-1 to up his current win streak to 25 keep his 2011 spotless at 23-0. And through five matches he has yet to yield even five games in any single set.
“I don’t feel that I can’t lose on the court,” Djokovic said. “What I feel is big confidence. What I feel is that I’m playing best tennis of my life. This is as simple as that. As I said before, it’s mental game, so physically I’ve been working very hard and dedicating a lot of time to some elements in my game, like serve, and it’s paying off now.”
And for both players tomorrow the serve will be key.
Nadal leads their series 16-8 with much of that advantage thanks to a 9-0 mark on clay,2-0 on grass against Novak. On hardcourts, however, Djokovic is ahead 8-5 including a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win at Indian Wells last month. That win was the first time Novak had beating the Rafa in a tournament final in six tries.
“I felt I had a chance last week in Indian Wells,” Rafa said. “I lost a little bit the focus and the rhythm on the second set, the intensity of the legs and of the shots, so I started to play a little bit more defensive. Against one player like Novak, is impossible win the match play like this, no? So on Sunday have to play very well all the match if I want to have any chance. I have to play aggressive and I have to play all the points, and that’s what I going to try.”
But unlike Indian Wells, the court and conditions in Miami favor Nadal (though Rafa has won twice at Indian Wells yet never in Miami). The slow court, Latin American fan base and the hot, humid climate (remember the match begins at 1pm) I think give Nadal just enough to take down a mentally fatiguing Djokovic.
That said, the match is really on Novak’s racquet. If he plays like he’s been (zero weaknesses) he’ll win regardless of Rafa’s level. On a hardcourt right now, if both players are at their max I give Djokovic the edge because Novak can exploit Nadal’s second serve.
Physically, after a day off both players should be well-rested, however mentally for Djokovic the streak, having to beat Nadal again and the pressure of being the favorite has to weigh on Novak. And I think that with the conditions and playing a motivated Nadal, who has never won the Miami title, will be just too much to overcome. I picked Nadal from the start and I’ll go against the better judgment of riding the hot horse by taking him to beat Novak in three.
I do expect it to be another long, grueling, physical match that we’ve come to expect from these two. It should be fun.
The match will be televised live on CBS starting at 1pm ET.
MIAMI SUNDAY SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 12:50pm
 R Nadal (ESP) vs  N Djokovic (SRB) – ATP – SINGLES FINAL
 L Huber (USA) / N Petrova (RUS) vs D Hantuchova (SVK) / A Radwanska (POL) – WTA – DOUBLES FINAL
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