After Nole ended 2013 with a huge winning streak, dreams of Djokovic winning his 5th Australian Open title setting up a battle with Rafael Nadal in Paris seemed tantalizingly close. Instead, Stan Wawrinka beat both Nole and Rafa in Melbourne and 2014 has been a year without a clear storyline. Still, #1 vs. #2 is a story whenever it happens.
Who Needs it More?
Nadal has picked up two smaller titles in 2014 and has an Australian Open runner-up to his name. Nole just won Indian Wells, and a player is on a roll anytime Masters 1000 events are won consecutively. Rafa has never won Miami despite being loved by the fan base in south Florida. I think Nole needs this more than Rafa despite his previous successes in Miami. Rafa is the reigning French Open and US Open champion. Nole does not hold any of the four Grand Slam titles at the moment. A win makes Nole a hunter who is looking to regain old prizes. A loss continues the narrative of Nole failing to close out events despite being the most consistent player across all surfaces.
Who is in Better Form?
Given that each man played a grueling semifinal … If nagging injuries exist, very little can be done. However, each player should be rested and ready for this match. I think each man is playing well enough, but neither has played their best tennis thus far in 2014.
Anything New to See?
Not really. Rafa did change his court positioning a bit and slices his backhand more against Nole so that he does not plant as firmly in his backhand side. Slicing allows Rafa to get back to his forehand corner more easily. However, Rafa has been using these techniques since the 2012 Australian Open final. The question for me is how much of a price is Novak willing to pay? I think that Nole has a slight tactical edge vs. Nadal so long as Novak is willing to put his entire mind and body on the line. These guys have pushed baseline tennis to a new realm. I hope we see that again today.
Nadal has to feel like he is due to win Miami. Still, I think Djokovic is the slight favorite in this format. I like Djokovic to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. It may or may not prove to be an instant classic, but it is a better ticket than 99% of possible tennis matches.