The first ball of the 37th meeting between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will be hit shortly after 17:00 today, in Flushing Meadows, as this Monday marks the end of the U.S. Open. For the occasion, we should be treated to another battle royale between the two best players in the world.
An Open Era record
When they take the court, today, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will establish a new Open Era mark, as they will pass the one they shared with Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe, and since they might meet many other times before the end of their careers, their record might go well beyond 40 meetings. So far, Nadal leads the head-to-head 21-15.
In comparison, Nadal and Roger Federer have met “only” 31 times, the last one being their amazing quarter-final encounter in Cincinnati.
Today will also be the fourth meeting between Nadal and Djokovic this season. The Spaniard leads the year-to-date head-to-head 2-1, with triumphs in the French Open and Montreal, whereas the Serbian had ended Nadal’s reign in Monte Carlo before that.
No battle for the Number One, but…
By reaching the final, Novak Djokovic assured himself of remaining number one in the rankings for at least a few weeks more.
However, if the Asian and indoor swings go the way the season went so far, there will be a changing of the guard before long on top of the ATP World Tour.
Novak Djokovic doesn’t deny it:
“[Nadal] hasn’t lost a match on hard court this year, and we all knew that over the course of last six, seven, eight years, hard court hasn’t been his favorite surface. He has got injuries, many injuries on this surface, but now he looks fit. He had seven months off. He lost three matches this year. With no doubt he’s the best player in the moment this year, no question about it.“
Looking at it from that point of view, Djokovic conceding the advantage to his rival appears to be the logical thing to say, especially when the statistics and year-to-date records are there to state it.
After all, Nadal has reached the final of every single tournament he’s entered this season, except for Wimbledon, and is yet to lose a match on hard court. Should he win today, he would become the first player since Andy Roddick in 2003 to complete the triple Canada-Cincinnati-US Open.
As for Novak Djokovic, winning today might give him a well-needed confidence boost in a season that has, so far, gone with many ups and downs, especially since that French Open crushing semifinal defeat.
What does this battle mean to the current World n°1?
“It’s important to me, of course. I have been finishing the years No. 1 last two seasons, and I know how much consistency and hard work and energy put into all this 10, 11 months of a season you need to deliver in order to be No. 1 of the world. So Rafa is I think in a better position right now for that ranking and for this position, but I’m still keeping that position going. I’m fighting for it. I mean, you know, I need to play well and I need to win tournaments in order to finish No. 1. I’m aware of that. But, you know, this is not the first time that I have something like this in front of me.”
– Novak Djokovic
Two men with an immense respect for each other
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are two very fierce competitors, but if there is one thing to take from their rivalry, it is the respect both men have for each other, and for each other’s game, not to mention how special each of their encounters are.
“I prefer to play against another one (smiling), but is what it is. At the end, well, we have to be honest, no? We don’t have to be stupid. (laughter). Talking about a final, I want to play against a player that I have more chances to win. But I play against him. I played against him a lot of times. Always we played very exciting matches. When you play, when you are involved in these kind of matches, you feel special. And at the end, even if I lost that final in Australia, I feel happy to be involved in that match. Semifinals in Roland Garros this year have been very emotional, too. Few weeks ago in Montreal have been, you know, good, very good level, no, of tennis? Is good if both of us, we are playing at very good level so the match becomes great because we play long rallies, we bring our game to the limit situations, and becomes a very difficult match for both of us. Hopefully I hope to be ready for that. I don’t know. I gonna try. I need to keep playing very aggressive and play a very, very good match. Only like this I gonna have chances. That’s what I gonna try.”
“Novak is a great opponent. There is another ones there, but is true we already play a lot of important matches for our career, so that makes that confrontation special. And when you have the chance to win against the most difficult players, is true that the victory is more special.”
– Rafael Nadal
Not wishing to meet a specific player might be one of the highest compliments to be made, coming from Rafa.
“It’s always the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport now. I mean, he’s the ultimate competitor out there. He’s fighting for every ball and he’s playing probably the best tennis that he ever played on hard courts.”
– Novak Djokovic
It should be an intense battle
After 36 meetings, and entering their 37th, Nadal and Djokovic sure know each other’s games by heart. Yet, no matter how many times they play, there is one thing that always remains: they both give a mighty fight, and their matches remain amazing contests.
Should today be any different? No. It is a Grand Slam final, and both players had a day of rest, which means that both should take the court in good shape, and ready to battle it out for as long as may be.
Today will be one of the most important matches of the season, and for the occasion, both parts of the BATennis World team make their predictions.
The head of BATennis and BATennis World, Diego Amuy, is hard put to choose a winner, but still takes the plunge:
“Honestly, I see a very even final… but! I believe Rafa is the candidate. He is the best player of 2013, and arrives in the final having played better than Nole throughout the tournament. In any way, everything can happen, now that Nole knows how to beat him, and even more so on this surface and considering that it is a final. My vote goes to Rafa, but by a very little margin. It is difficult for me to risk that prediction.”
As for myself, I stick to my pre-tournament prediction. Just like my partner in tennis crime, I go with Rafa, not only because he is the winner I predicted even before the start of the tournament, but because he is, without a doubt, the best player of the two at the moment.
This is not to say that Nole does not stand a chance. All the contrary! I firmly believe that this match will be a tight, close one, but all in all, Nadal has been the strongest player in this U.S. Open, and with the aggressive play he has shown, his improved serve, and his overall shape, it is very difficult not to go with him.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see in what frame of mind Djokovic will take the court today, as he has appeared nervous at times, especially in the semifinals.
(Photos: Getty Images)