It’s the final we thought we’d get at the French Open last month, but we have it now. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will resume the best rivalry in tennis for a 28th time Sunday on the hallowed lawns Wimbledon.
Nadal has the big edge in experience playing the Wimbledon final. The Spaniard is into his fifth consecutive final and he comes in having 20 straight matches at the biggest grass tournament in the world. The last player to beat Nadal at Wimbledon was back in 2007 when Roger Federer needs five sets to turn away the lefty – since 2005, Federer is the only player to beat Nadal at Wimbledon!
This fortnight, despite some continued injury issues, Nadal has been playing efficient, tactful tennis, and he appears to be peaking at just the right time.
Yesterday, after a rocky start against British favorite Andy Murray, Nadal found his gear crushing Murray in the final three sets for a comfortable win. Murray, who once again shriveled up on the biggest stage, helped the cause with a second set cliff, but still the way Nadal closed the match has build some significant positive momentum going into the final. And Rafa will need it.
Djokovic is coming off one of his biggest career victories defeating JW Tsonga in the semifinals. The win itself wasn’t the achievement, it was the end result. Djokovic’s victory assured the Serb of the No. 1 ranking come Monday, fulfilling a childhood dream of officially becoming the best player in tennis.
Through the event, Djokovic, like Nadal, probably hasn’t been at the level we saw during the clay stretch or even earlier in the season on the hard courts. Djokovic was still good enough, steady enough to reach his first Wimbledon final.
In their meetings, Nadal holds the big leads 16-11. But, and it’s a big but, Djokovic has won the last four meetings, all this year and all in big-time finals.
“His mental position over me today is probably a little bit better because he won the last four finals against me,” Nadal said. “And that’s what it is. I’m here. I’m try my best. I think I’m playing well, really well. We will see what’s going on on Sunday, no? I will try my best. I have to play aggressive. I have to play with intensity, with rhythm. That’s what I gonna try.”
Nadal, however, will be buoyed by the fact that in Grand Slam matches and best-of-five encounters, he’s never lost to Djokovic leading 6-0. And that’s massive.
It’s one thing to beat Nadal in Madrid or Indian Wells, it’s another to beat him in a Slam. Nadal knows it. Novak knows it.
“It is quite different playing Nadal in a Grand Slam because it’s a best of five,” said Djokovic. “So physically we all know that he’s superior and he’s the strongest player around, you know, most prepared. So I’m ready for long rallies, you know, long points. You know, I need to be physically ready, which I am. I feel fit in this moment, and mentally obviously motivated. It’s my first Wimbledon final. The four times I won against him this year can probably help me in some ways mentally prior to this match.”
At the start of the tournament I picked this final and I chose Nadal to beat Djokovic. And I think that’s how it still plays out.
Novak certainly can harm Nadal, there is no question. And Nadal really isn’t at his best right now, so there is some vulnerability. I do think, however, that Djokovic has to be feeling a little bit of relief after finally attaining the No. 1 ranking. That has to factor in.
For me, I think Novak will let down every so slightly leaving the door open for Rafa and that’s the difference. As we know with Nadal, there’s no give, no second gear. He may have lost his top ranking but I’d bet he’d gladly trade those four losses to Djokovic in the Masters tournament finals for a third Wimbledon title and 11th career Slam, and I think Sunday Nadal wins it in four sets.
Djokovic has been the best player this season and he certainly has the skillset needed to beat Nadal, as he’s proven all year. But I just can’t see him beating Rafa for a fifth straight time, and all in finals. Rafa won’t allow it.
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