Novak Djokovic faces Rafael Nadal in the US Open final at Flushing Meadows tonight. Can Djokovic complete the greatest season in tennis history with a maiden US title? Or will Nadal finally reassert his long-held supremacy over the Serb?
Djokovic has dominated the Spaniard this season, defeating him in five finals. Impressively at Indian Wells; courageously in Miami; surprisingly at Madrid; convincingly in Rome and authoritatively at Wimbledon, Djokovic has completely owned Nadal on the big occasions.
Is there any reason to believe this will change tonight? Probably not. Djokovic currently has an unshakeable confidence that when it comes down to the big points, he will win them. This mentality was in evidence in the semi-final; two sets down to Federer, and then two match points down in the fifth, there was still an utter certainty that Djokovic would win.
On the first match point he was transformed from Novak into The Djoker; blasting a forehand return of awesome power past the instantly demoralised Swiss and then celebrating with a swagger and smirk that portrayed his infallibility. This unquenchable self-belief and assurance of triumph even in the greatest adversity, is a much greater weapon than any pounding serve or two-fisted backhand.
Ironically, Nadal was once famed for this resilience. And against any other player in the world he would be a massive favourite tonight. However, this season he has been cowed by Djokovic – who does all that Rafa does, and just that little bit better. Djokovic’s serve has improved beyond all recognition from the quivering shambles witnessed in early 2010. His forehand is immensely powerful and supremely consistent, while his two-handed backhand is simply the best shot in men’s tennis. Rafa is a superhuman athlete; but Djokovic might just be the quickest and most agile player who ever stepped onto a tennis court.
Tactically, the main problem that Nadal has is that his greatest strength, that huge, topspin, crosscourt forehand which has bludgeoned hundreds of opponents into submission, is nullified because he’s hitting it into Djokovic’s best shot: the two-handed backhand. Djokovic takes the ball early before the heavy topspin can leave him off balance, and he’s the only player in the world consistently able to attack against Nadal’s forehand. Federer is paralysed by the spin; Murray is too erratic when trying to hit through it. However, watch Djokovic rip winners up the line and crosscourt off his backhand wing.
Nadal can win. He will believe he can win. The pundit’s will doubtless think he can win. But he won’t. Djokovic is inevitability personified – just ask Roger Federer, and this sustained period of invincibility should be cherished as one of sport’s all-time high watermarks.
Prediction: Djokovic in 4