128 players and 6 single elimination matches later to get to this point and form should not hold so neatly should it? At Wimbledon and now the US Open we are treated to a #1 versus #2 showdown. In 2006 through 2008 we got these matches between Federer and Nadal in Paris and London. The 2009 Australian Open also featured the ‘Fedal’ final. A new duo is in town and New York is the stage for round 2 of #1 vs. #2 in 2011. Not only is it #1 versus #2, but it is a re-match of the 2010 final and the underdog is the defending champion. This match-up is a fitting and exciting end to a somewhat bizarre 2 weeks.
Rafael Nadal has had an easier ride through this draw than Novak Djokovic even if Rafa had to play three consecutive days before today’s break. He has also taken on a modern day warrior persona since his tilt with the USTA. The final being on Monday is proof that his quest was not Quixotic. Nole went 5 sets with Federer in what had to be a mentally taxing effort. His toe got dinged up vs. Tipsarevic. I think Rafa has more momentum.
These two guys know each other’s games quite well. Last year I felt that Novak played well enough in the first 3 sets minus his serve to beat Rafa. Since fixing his serve, he’s beaten Rafa 5 consecutive times. Novak is able to pressure Rafa’s serve with deep low returns as well as take his backhand up the line to bother Rafa. Rafa can adjust and try to serve bigger or bang his forehand down the line. Adjusting is tricky business though as even elite players have preferred tendencies that provide a comfort zone. If Nole serves well, I think the match-up favors him. Especially since his speed allows for him to go from defense to offense and win some long slogging points that Nadal normally dominates.
Can anyone beat Nadal 6 straight times? If Nole does, more power to him, but numerically that is hard to do against someone as strong as Rafa.
Can Rafa re-exert himself in a rivalry that has turned against him like none has in the past?
I think Novak Djokovic will win in 4 competitive sets. His return of serve versus Rafa’s serve is a comparative advantage that will take its toll over time. If Rafa serves huge or Nole struggles serving, the match could tilt the other way. Given how poorly I predicted the women’s final between Serena Williams and Sam Stosur, this prediction should make Nadal fans smile.