Even if Rafael Nadal is unbeaten this season on Hard Courts, his US Open final against Novak Djokovic is far from a sure thing, as the Serbian player and world number one is hoping that his marathon match in the semifinal won’t be too exhausting for him to compete.
It’s been a weird year in the usually easy to predict ATP Tour, and Nadal’s dominance on the hard courts has been extremely surprising, considering the fact that this surface has been the main reason, according to his crew, for Nadal’s knee problems and long hiatus.
But the injury, the pain (whether he feels it or not) doesn’t matter anymore. After an embarrassing first round exit at Wimbledon, Nadal simply came back to dominate the North American Masters, reaching nine titles this season by claiming the crowns at Cincinnati and Canada, beating Raonic and Isner in the final, while also claiming Djokovic’s scalp in the Rogers Cup semifinal.
So far in Queens? Perfect. He hasn’t dropped a single set against a comfortable schedule, and he has had seen his serve broken only once. He has played only one player in the top 20 (Richard Gasquet), but his dominance all year long on clay and hard courts has been astounding, and his aggressiveness while dominating with his serve as well seems to be too much for the inconsistent majority of the tour.
Djokovic is a different story. He does have one Grand Slam title this season, but it’s clear that something isn’t right. His forehand and backhand are all over the place this season, and he seems to be relying too much on fighting back from tough spots instead of skillfully getting his wins.
He didn’t have the toughest of roads to the final as well, but he did drop a set in the quartefinals against Mikhail Youzhny and needed five sets to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals. Once again, it looked a lot more about Djokovic simply hitting all or nothing shots than actually playing better than Wawrinka throughout the contest.
Nadal has been successful against Djokovic recently, but that success has mostly been on clay. On hard courts, and especially in big matches (US or Australian Open), Djokovic hasn’t lost to Nadal since the 2010 US Open final.
Favorite to win? It has to be Nadal, playing exceptionally well for the last couple of months. But Djokovic changes his style against Nadal, playing a lot more on winners, and making every shot seem like it’s going to be over quickly, unlike his matches with Andy Murray. With the fatigue and everything else, Djokovic has an extra gear no one on the tour has, including Nadal, who simply relies on superior quality these days.
Prediction – With all that being said, Nadal is simply the better player at the moment. Not just in this tournament, but for most of this season. Djokovic may be a better hard courts player on most days, but something is off about his hitting this season, and it’ll be too much for his stamina and extra-tank mode to overcome.