Monday, 12 September 2011

US Open 2011 Men's Final Preview: Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic

Of all the matches the Spaniard and the Serb have played this year, their 6th meeting will be the most fascinating. The year has come full circle, both from a time perspective, and because the US Open final last year was one of the turning points for Novak Djokovic, one of the sparks along with the Davis Cup that produced a chain reaction of wins and only two losses. It was at the US Open where Djokovic rediscovered his real ability. It was also the place where Rafael Nadal completed his career Grand Slam by winning the major which had eluded and seemed destined to elude him, for years. It holds a very strong significance for both men. But in terms of the future, whoever wins could have an impact on the shape of the year to come. Should Djokovic claim his 4th Grand Slam and beat Nadal for the 6th straight time, it will further consolidate his status as world no.1, and ensure that this year is considered one of the greatest seasons to have ever been compiled by a tennis player. Nadal will be left shattered by another loss and no further along in his task of defeating Djokovic. But if Nadal wins, and splits the slams two apiece for the year, he will have proven that despite his consecutive losses, he was able to beat the undisputed best player this year on the highest stage, and on his best surface. It may prove the impetus Nadal needs to overturn Djokovic's dominance over him and reassert his, claiming his 11th Grand Slam in the process and strengthening his already achieved status as one of the greatest to ever play the game. Nadal said he would draw inspiration from his win over Djokovic at the US last year and try to emulate that success tonight, and if he manages to red line his game like he did against Murray, he will give himself the best chance to finally avenge those 5 straight losses.

This is all to assume that Djokovic is still the man to beat. Which he probably is, but not without some caveats. Of all 4 Grand Slams, Djokovic has looked visibly vulnerable in his last 3 matches. Let us not forget that Federer held 2 match points against him in the last round, and that he had considerable difficulty putting away countryman Janko Tipsarevic until he was forced to retire, and looked unconvincing against Dolgopolov. Nadal on the other hand has looked progressively better with each match, and is close to his peak form with an excellent win over Murray. Nonetheless, Djokovic knows he has the weapons to beat Nadal, and feels confident staying with him on the baseline. He is also without doubt the best returner in the men's game at the moment, and will make Nadal pay for any short, predictable serves. The key for both men will be the serve. If Djokovic serves well, he'll put the pressure on Nadal to defend his service games, and if he serves strongly he should manage to stop Djokovic getting into rallies and controlling at the baseline. The onus will be marginally heavier on Nadal to do more with his backhand and try to damage Djokovic with his forehand by changing his mode of attack by targeting Djokovic's relatively weaker forehand wing with inside out forehands. For Djokovic, how well he is hitting his backhand could make an important difference; in the match with Federer he wasn't hitting his patented down the line backhand with as much authority as we're used to seeing, but if he dials it in for the final it will prove as damaging to Nadal as it has done all year. As he has acknowledged, Nadal has to do something different, whilst retaining the elements which armed him well enough to beat the Serb at the same stage next year, and the grit and indomitable will which he is known for.

This will be a fascinating competition of unbreakable wills and pulsating shotmaking; my prediction:

Rafael Nadal to win in 5 sets.

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