Rafael Nadal is heading into his second straight US Open final as the underdog. Yes. He’s number two in the world, behind Novak Djokovic, who’s having the best year of his life and one of the most impressive seasons in history. Yes, he’s lost to Novak Djokovic in their five matches this season, all in tournament finals. This time, according to Nadal, the streak is going to end.
If it wasn’t for Novak, Nadal would be with 8 titles in the bag this year. He’s won in Monte Carlo and in Barcelona. Djokovic didn’t play in those, mid you. Nadal won his second consecutive Roland Garros and sixth overall, making it his 10th Grand Slam title. A Wimbledon final, an Australian Open Semi final, not too bad huh? Well, Following a year with three Grand Slam titles, its disappointing. To his fans and himself.
But having to face the man who has beaten him five times this year in a final? A test of mental strength, composure and ability if there ever was one. Nadal has played better in the 2011 US Open, better than anyone except for Federer probably. And even for Roger, it wasn’t enough against Djokovic. The Serbian legend can’t be entering this match with more confidence than he’s riding right now.
Lets recap – Djokovic met Nadal at the Indian Wells masters final. Nadal took the first set 6-4, but Djokovic won it with two fantastic 6-3, 6-2 sets. Next were the Miami masters. Same Final. Same first set – Nadal won 6-4. Next two sets? 6-3 and a classic tie breaker deciding set, which Djokovic won, becoming the first player to win the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami since… Federer in 2006. Federer won three Grand Slams that year – Australia, Wimbledon and the US Open. Any meaning to that?
Well, clay court season – Nadal has to get some wins against Novak, right? Wrong. The Madrid open, Nadal’s home court more or less, and Djokovic took him apart 7-5, 6-4. In the Rome open? More of the same. Nadal tried something different in that match, to no avail. Again, two sets, 6-4, 6-4.
Next clash? The Wimbledon final. The big mental crusher. Djokovic was SO much better it was brutal. Nadal did win a set, but there was no doubt who was the best player on the grass, who’s the new best player in the world. And with this mental baggage, Nadal enters this US Open final against Novak Djokovic.
On Nadal’s side? Well, he’s beaten Djokovic 16 of 28 times. He has the edge in Grand Slams, 5-1. He’s also beaten Novak Djokovic in their only US Open meeting, last year, in the final. You can’t throw those numbers out the window. Nadal relies on them. But the totally opposite picture taken from this season’s results show a more current and reliable description of reality.
Nadal isn’t denying that – He’s obivously the favorite. This year I lost the last five matches against him, five finals. This will be the sixth. That’s an advantage for him. He’s obviously the favourite for the final, and I know I have to do something better than the other matches to try to change the situation.
I do know this – Nadal wouldn’t have thrown away a two set lead against Djokovic like Federer did yesterday, not against anyone. Novak has struggled getting into matches in this tournament, and if Nadal jumps his prey very early, he might improve his chances.
I have my game, and I beat him in the past playing my game. The thing is to play my game very well and be strong enough mentally all the time. Just play aggressive, try to play a similar match to last year here. I saw that match a lot of times and I know what I have to do.
Djokovic, obviously, is feeling quite confident he can keep his streak rolling – I know that I have a game that is good enough to win against him. I have proved that this year on three different surfaces, so I believe that I have a good chance. I think last year throughout the whole tournament and in the final I have never seen him serve better. So I think again it depends on my serve and his serve, as well. It’s going to be a tough match.