Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal For The Australian Open Title, Who’s The Pick?
by Sean Randall | January 26th, 2019, 9:50 am

After 13 days, it’s really no surprise we have Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal left at the Australian Open. The two last played Down Under in a memorable, memorizing 5-hour, 53-minute epic in 2012 that will live on as one of the all-time great finals. Tomorrow, I just don’t think we’ll see a sequel because seven years later, I don’t think either player could make it that long without certain death.

So Sunday I expect a shorter, less exhausting match. And I say that based on Nadal’s new serve which has helped him shorten points throughout the fortnight.

And I just don’t feel like Djokovic has the same stamina either. But we’ll see. So to the matchup:

Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal
In their 53rd meeting, there’s not a lot to pick and choose at this point. There are no secrets, no hidden tricks between the two who first played way back at the 2006 French Open quarterfinals.

These two know each other’s games extremely well, as do most tennis fans.

Djokovic leads their head-to-head 27-25 but the key figure for me is Novak has won nine of their last 10 in hardcourt finals, losing only in the 2013 US Open title match. And when I checked last, the Australian Open is on hardcourts! It’s not clay, not grass, it’s cement which is Rafa’s least favorite surface. We know that.

But credit to Nadal, after very poor hardcourt season last year – you’ve seen all the stats with the retirements and the withdrawals – he looks excellent this week, especially off the serve.

Rafa has really been pounding that serve like we haven’t seen in years and it’s paying off. He’s getting earlier looks at forehand putaways which has freed up his groundstrokes and his return game. As he joked, he’s not quite Roger Federer on the serve, but guess what, he’s getting there. Progress is being made, it’s just a question of his body willing. And so far so good.

Nadal hasn’t dropped a set and he’s basically blown everyone away these last two weeks.

Meanwhile, Djokovic has been cruising along. Denis Shapovalov stole a set late and incredibly Daniil Medvedev came from 4-1 down to do the same. Otherwise, Djokovic has been fairly clean all tournament.

Medvedev made him work which rightly should give Nadal fans hope for tomorrow.

And what’s nice is both guys should come in 100% fresh and I would think injury free. I know Rafa had a thigh issue to start the year and recently was spotted with some worrisome-looking tape on his abs, but did he look hampered in any way Thursday night against Stefanos Tsitsipas? No!

So both are ready and primed for more history – Rafa on the brink of a second Career Slam which would put him over Federer in my mind, and Djokovic would move past Pete Sampras all alone in third on the all-time men’s Slam leaderboard.

As for the match, I’ve spoke highly of Nadal’s serve, but here’s the problem, he’s not played against any real quality returners. Tomas Berdych? Alex De Minaur? I just don’t know.

Djokovic, of course, is among the best if not the best. So tomorrow we are going to find out just how good Nadal’s new serve really is. And my guess is it will be better but still not good enough to beat Djokovic on a hardcourt.

When you look at the draw, Nadal has played six guys he should have beaten. Six straight and really I don’t think anyone had him losing any of those matches. Maybe a set here or there, but not the match. So while he looked awesome in those wins, I take them with a little grain of salt.

Djokovic is a totally different beast than those we’ve seen Nadal play (and yes, you can make the argument for Djokovic and his opponents), and I just think Djokovic is in such a groove right now. He won at Wimbledon, which I think is Novak’s worst surface, he took the US Open and he loves playing in Melbourne. It’s his best and most successful of the Slams – he’s never lost once he makes the semifinals.

And I feel like it’s his time. Nadal can’t come back after missing 3-4 months and win a hardcourt Slam let alone a hardcourt event! That hasn’t been his history.

So as I said, I expect the points to be quicker but we’ll still get that occasional breathless 1,452-shot rally, and in the end Djokovic toughs him out.
The Pick: Djokovic in 4

I wrestled with this pick a lot over the last 24 hours, and I do think we just haven’t seen Nadal face a quality returner. Sunday night in Melbourne we will and I expect Djokovic to do his thing and work his backhand to get Rafa out of position something no one has been able to do yet – I guess Berdych took it to him a bit in that third set.

That said, if Rafa’s humming on his serve and giving Djokovic trouble, than watch out tennis world, Rafa’s going to be unstoppable. And, who knows, maybe that happens.

But for now I’ll stay with my original pick of Djokovic. Either way, with Nadal and Djokovic healthy again it sets up for a good first part of the year.

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23 Comments for Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal For The Australian Open Title, Who’s The Pick?

Michael Says:

I feel Sean has got it right. But never discount a phenomenon like Rafa who has the ability to turn all such doomsday prophesies to dust. All said and done,with the margins being so fractional, it will be the big points and break point conversions which will prove to be the ultimate difference between victory and defeat. My conjecture is Novak in 5, with the last set being a run-off without much fight.

skeezer Says:

Wow, with the so called fake news accusations that this was a Fed only site, Sean puts out a quality write on the Rafa/Novak hype, silencing the pundits, with a poll included! Well done Sean and I am going with Michael also on the prediction.

Safdar Says:

I have observed that Djokovich still has that dominant game but not the same supporting stamina, a critical factor that will make the way for a Nadal victory

Ven Says:

I feel it’s 50-50, hoping for Rafa

j-kath Says:


Have you ever known Rafa to play “without much fight” especially if it goes to a 5th set? —I’d say only if he is injured.

Andy Mira Says:

“Nadal can’t come back after missing 3-4 months & win a HC slam,let alone a HC event”…

I think Sean’s butt will get kick by Rafa tomorrow…U really underestimated new Rafa 2.0 aren’t u?

No one has a painful experience at Melbourne like Rafa…I think u forgot this factor Sean…A wounded & heartbroken animal can be a very dangerous weapon too!(if healthy that is!)..

Rafa in 4!(insyaallah,amin!)

BEL18EVE!….Vamos Rafa!!…Woohooo!!

p/s…U forgot 2017 Sean?He almost win that one…he even up a break in 5th sets…so win AO is not that impossible!…and with a weak serve too!

Andy Mira Says:

Ohh forgot!heh heh…

Good luck to both incredible warriors!…

Can’t wait to see it!…Hope it will not be me who end up crying tomorrow!heehehe….

Giles Says:

The said Michael visits this site about once a year and is still FOS!

Giles Says:

AM. Insyallah Rafa will win! 👍👍👍

Andy Mira Says:

Yeah Giles!….Insyaallah!…

Hope he will keep playing super aggressive & serving really well…and mixed it up with coming to the net more often….Rafa stats at the net is pretty awesome…and most importantly,try to not accept the invitation from Nole to trading shots from the baseline…if he do that,he’ll be doomed!

But i’m pretty sure Rafa won’t go back to his vintage self…he knows he has to protect his thigh strain that hampered him in Brisbane…it’s not going to be easy today…Nole is the best player in the world…best HC returner…his defense is out of this world…but he’s human too…Insyaallah Rafa has a chance too….

Vamos Rafa!!…

Andy Mira Says:

Oh yeah Giles!…The last time u said ‘insyaallah’….it worked wonders for u!…Hope this time it will bring the same magic Giles!hahahaha….

Michael Says:

I request Giles to please refrain from Adhominems. I am just giving my prediction here which I am consciously aware can horribly go wrong too as nobody can be clairvoyant even with a semblance of perfection. Future is unpredictable especially with the way both the ATGs are playing.That said, I base my premise only on objective assessments and not with blind adoration towards a player which tend to cloud our mind with prejudice. Of course, I never conceal the fact that Novak is one of my favourite players, but still that would never whett my proclivity to be unfair to his opposition, especially Rafa. Let us see who is wise after the match !?

Michael Says:

Keath – I will be more than happy if there’s is a repeat of that epic 2012 even alternating winners. What I am eagerly looking forward to is a very keenly fought competitive match; which ofcourse is assured when you have both Novak and Rafa squaring up with each other. The reason I gave Novak a free run in the 5th set is only because Nadal is so far not tested in this tournament despite his stamp of authority so far and the sheer class and H2H advantage of Novak might deter and prevail ultimately.

chrisford1 Says:

Optimum, if there was some magic edict that one of the two can only won the French or Australian Open – but not both if they are in both Finals – then I’d like to see Rafa win the AO, but Novak get the French – so BOTH guys get the double career slam. But obviously no guarantee either will be in the FO Final, so of course you must root for your fave.
Rafa has been in better form throughout the event, but Djokovic is of course highly motivated. He wins, he is off chasing another Grand Slam, among the dozen or so motivators he will have tomorrow.

Andy Mira Says:

That’s alright Michael….Giles is Giles…I for one respect your view & other’s very much!…Please continue doing so okay?

Michael Says:

Thank you Andy. You are one of the sane poster in this forum who always articulates with dignity and grace and you command my respect. We must countenance each other’s opinion even though we might radically differ without resorting to polemical abuse.Never in my post, I have undermined the legacy of Rafa. In my ranking list of Greats, he stands on the highest pedestal and I always adore his qualities as an indefatigable warrior on court.Even it he loses to Novak today, he has already engraved his greatness in the pantheon of Champions and there is nothing left to prove.

Andy Mira Says:

Awww thank u Michael!…Hey!…u’re one of the great posters here too u know!…It’s a shame u rarely come here anymore Michael…
And thank u so much for the nice words about Rafa Michael…

They both deserve the win actually…of coz as a Rafan,i want him to win..but if Novak win…it’s no problem for me to accept it with an open heart…Rafole rivalry for me is the most intriguing & most interesting to watch bcoz everytime they met,there will be plenty of breathtaking moments & amazing tennis for us to savour….Fedal too!…

Oh!….best of luck to u & Nole too Michael!…May the best man win!!!…Wooohooo!!

James the 1st Says:

I do not often visit this site/blog as I used to in the past but I have always seen Michael giving respectful comments. He supports Federer or Djokovic if I remember correctly. I never his posts to be disrespectful to any player.

On the final, I am optimistic of Rafa’s chances. I just feel like this is his time to win the godamn second title at Melbourne Park. I cannot underestimate Novak who has been unbeaten in all previous AO finals and could very well maintained that winning streak in the final. I hope it is Rafa who comes out on top and beats the seemingly unbeatable Djokovic in an AO final. If he wins, it will be one of his most epic victories. Probably second or third best victory after Wimbledon 2008 (and AO ’09).

Michael Says:

Thank you Andy and I am really exhilarated to discern that you hold me in such regard as a poster. It is true that I am not able to visit this site often as I used to in the past due to my work commitments and hectic travelling. But your exalted comments make me wistful that I must frequently visit this site as it is comfiting to see such comments. Coming to the match: Yes, let the best man win. But to tell you the truth, I will be rooting for Rafa all the way here and Novak at the French open where Rafa has won enough already.

Michael Says:

Many thanks to James too for valuing my comments which is so encouraging as a poster.Let us all hope for a humdinger of a match and may the deserving win.

Andy Mira Says:

Yeah!….Agree with James Michael….I used to read your fair & balance post in the past …and i loved it!…Tho,we rarely interacted much coz i was a new kid here…Ohh..once again thank u for rooting for Rafa Michael….hopefully your honest intention will give Rafa some positive outcome today..insyaallah!

j-kath Says:

Hi Michael:

I’m assuming that your post at 7.45pm, addressed to “Keath” is a response to mine at 11.16am. I note you said: “The reason I gave Novak a free run in the 5th set is only because Nadal is so far not tested in this tournament” –

Fair enuf! I have no problem with anyone’s views – in fact it’s good to read as much variety as possible. In my case: I have been so impressed by Rafa in this GS – he has absolutely raised his game and he’s not going to give up easily – right down to his last ounce of energy. That said, no idea who will win, and I’m rooting equally for both of them (PS: My favourite player is still Andy Murray…..sadly about to leave us for good).

FedExpress Says:

Andy Mira, so what now? It wasnt God’s will to let Rafa win. Rafa get slaughtered and owned like never before.

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