I doubt we get anything quite like this until maybe Melbourne 2016
Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic completed perhaps the most dominant tennis season ever. 2016 likely will offer challenges, both new and old, to Nole’s reign. Andy Murray may pick up a boost from his role in winning the Davis Cup. Uncle Toni is predicting a big year for Rafael Nadal. Younger players are always trying to climb the ladder. So how big of a deal if Novak’s Qatar showdown with Rafael Nadal?
Rafa is in an Ideal Spot
Rafa can win this match and steal momentum and confidence ahead of the Australian Open. Rafa can lose this match and still say he is rebuilding after 2015. Rafa really simply needs to avoid being completely outclassed, and he will gain something from his run in Qatar.
Novak Doesn’t Want to Give Rafa Oxygen
I don’t expect Novak to win 6-2, 6-1 so Rafa will likely take something positive from a runner-up finish into Melbourne. A 3 set win or a loss to Rafa could send reminders of Rafa’s resurgence in 2013. Novak knows how hard Nadal plays and how Rafa has come back seemingly from the brink to claim major titles and the #1 ranking in the past. Novak’s mission is a clinical win. The scoreline can be somewhat close in Nole’s view, but he doesn’t want to give anyone, most importantly Rafa and himself, the impression that the gap is closing in any real way.
What I Expect
These two know each other’s games very well. I don’t expect many new wrinkles minus Rafa maybe trying to stand in closer to the baseline than he did for most of 2015 and maybe trying to serve a little bigger. Each carries risks for Nadal. If he serves bigger but misses more first serves, Novak’s return of serve becomes a bigger factor. If he goes for bigger shots from the baseline, his unforced error count will likely rise. These are the choices a dominating #1 imposes on his opposition.
My Prediction: Novak Djoovic d. Rafael Nadal 6-3, 7-5, and they both get more or less what they want heading into Melbourne.