So much for change. Roger Federer and Andy Murray put up worthy fights in the semifinals but after six rounds under the sun at the Australian Open, it’s two familiar faces that are left standing: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
In this new age rivalry, they’ll battle for a 30th time and remarkably in a record third straight Grand Slam final.
It will be physical, it will be long but as always with the Djokovic-Nadal matches the tennis will be breathtaking.
These are two biggest, baddest most bruising baseliners in tennis. Maybe even in tennis history. But consider, it almost wasn’t to be.
Just two Sundays ago Nadal sat in tears in his hotel room wondering if he would even be able to play his first round match after he randomly tweaking his knee. However, that knee and his ailing right shoulder have miraculously held up as Rafa has ripped through the draw losing only two sets.
For Rafa, there are no signs of health issues and despite coming off two long, tough matches against Tomas Berdych and Federer. And the two days off should restore his body to 100%.
Recovery is a key element for Djokovic who won a near five hour marathon Friday over Murray.
With each round Djokovic has seemingly looked more and more vulnerable. Starting with Hewitt who stole a rare set.
David Ferrer then really pushed Novak for two, and Nadal’s countryman should have come away with at least one of those.
Then the Murray match.
Add to it this sudden allergy or breathing problem that has hit Djokovic. Where was this last year when he destroyed the field, or in 2008 when he won his first Grand Slam in Melbourne? Bizarre.
So going into the match I just don’t think Djokovic is playing at the level he was at a year. And I’ll say the same for Nadal.
Head-to-head, we know the story. After serving as his pigeon early, Djokovic has dominated Nadal winning their last six meetings, all in heartbreaking finals last season.
Djokovic has the backhand to diffuse Nadal’s money shot, that heavy forehand topspin to the ad side. He can also create ridiculous angles off either wing to get Rafa on the run and out of position.
While Nadal’s improved his serve, Djokovic’s is better. And the Serb’s return game is where he can make the difference by attacking Rafa’s weaker second serve.
For Nadal, he’s got be aggressive off the ground and pound his serve, especially his second. And I think he will.
For Djokovic, he needs to be offensive in his return game, serve well and crack those groundstrokes when he gets the short ball.
Nadal did look sharper than Djokovic in the semifinals, and lefty should be fresher. Questions over Djokovic’s fitness should be put to rest when you recall he played the same schedule at the US Open – beating Federer in five then 48 hours later beating Nadal. As I said, both guys should be fine.
But when you boil it down to matchups it’s a big edge to Djokovic. There’s a reason Novak’s won six straight over Nadal and tonight he makes it seven.
Djokovic in four.
And a quick congrats to Victoria Azarenka who won her first career Slam easily besting Maria Sharapova. Vika will be the new No. 1 tomorrow and it’s well deserved.
ESPN2 will have live coverage of the final starting at 3:30am ET. It’s the last early morning of tennis for us East Coasters. Though at the pace these two play it should still be on well past 9am. So set your alarms, it should be worth it.
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