MELBOURNE, January 26, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
The Australian Open men’s singles final between No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, currently the top two ranked players in the world, is the match up everyone has been anticipating during this Melbourne fortnight. Both competitors are playing in form for so early in the new season.
When they arrive on Rod Laver Arena Sunday evening, Djokovic, 31, and Nadal, 32, will bring some shared history with them. They’ve faced each other 52 times, including the longest Grand Slam final in history, a five hour and 53 minute epic in the 2012 Australian Open final, which Djokovic won. If all goes accordingly in their 53rd head-to-head meeting on Sunday evening at Melbourne Park, it promises to be a great final.
Bring it on!
The six-time Australian Open champion who is in pursuit of his 15th Grand Slam title, Djokovic reached his third straight Grand Slam final by dispatching No. 28 seed Lucas Pouille of France, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2, in just one hour and 23 minutes on Friday evening, much to nobody’s surprise. Djokovic won 45 of 53 service points and committed just five unforced errors.
“I think when Novak is playing like this, he’s the best in the world for sure,” an expressive Pouille said during his post-match press conference.
“We’ll see on Sunday how he goes, because Rafa looks pretty amazing, too. I think they are going to make a great final.”
A night earlier in the other semifinal, Nadal was relentless in beating Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, which completed three wins for the Spaniard over a trio of Next Gen ATP stars that also included Alex de Minaur of Australia and Frances Tiafoe of the United States during the fortnight.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion Nadal is trying to become the first male in Open Era history to win all four majors at least twice.
“I have to keep doing the things that I am doing,” said Nadal after beating Tsitsipas. “That’s my feeling: just keep playing the way that I am playing, and let’s see.”
Nadal has won only one of the four Australian Open finals he’s competed in, against Roger Federer in 2009, which went five sets. In his most recent Melbourne final, he lost to Federer in 2017, also in five sets.
“Nadal has historically throughout my life and career been the greatest rival that I ever played against, on all the surfaces,” said Djokovic following his semifinal victory over Pouille.
“Some matches that we had against each other were a great turning point in my career. I feel they have made me rethink my game.
“I had some disappointing moments where I lost to him. I think I’ve lost to him nine times so far in the Grand Slams, and I lost some tough matches in finals and semis at the French Open and U.S. Open. I won also some great matches.
“Those kind of encounters have also made me the player I am today, without a doubt. These are the kind of matches that you live for: finals of Slams, playing the greatest rivals at their best. What more can you ask for? This is where you want to be.”
By the numbers
* Entering Sunday’s Australian Open final, Rafael Nadal has won five consecutive matches without dropping serve, and he has been broken just twice in the entire tournament.
* Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have combined to win 24 of the last 35 Grand Slam titles. After Sunday night, since one of them will win, it will become 25 of the last 36.
What they’re saying
“We’re going to give absolutely everything out on the court.” – Novak Djokovic
What they’re tweeting
* Steve Tignor, Tennis Magazine writer: “If the guard changed in the middle of this tournament, it changed back quickly. Nadal & Djokovic head and shoulders above everyone else, and they’ll meet in another Slam final on Sunday.”
* Charlie Eccleshare (@CDEccleshare), British tennis writer for The Telegraph: “Last time there were two such uncompetitive men’s slam semis – using games lost as the metric – was the 1978 French Open (nine lost by the winners compared to 10 at this Australian Open). In 1992 only nine games were lost, but one of the semis was a walkover.”
* David Law (@DavidLawTennis): “The old Novak Djokovic defiance is back. Right down to wanting to concede fewer games than Nadal, after Rafa was rightly lauded for his #AusOpen semi win over Tsitsipas. Final = irresistible force vs. immovable object.”