Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal head into the Australian Open in Melbourne as the top two seeds on men's side of the draw, and most would take them to be favorites for the title, with arguably the sought-after final being one between the two players.
If things go as they have in last two Grand Slam events at the US Open and at Wimbledon, we would get a third installment of the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry in as many Grand Slam finals—and this time, the meeting would have added significance. It could either be the final blow that likely knocks out Rafael Nadal or the counter-punch that would energize him going into the rest of 2012.
Speaking a few months ago on the state of the game, Nadal said:
In 2005, 2006 and 2007, perhaps you could say there was a bit of a monopoly, but it was down to Federer. I was also there, but a little less. For sure I think this monopoly ended some time ago. There are many players ready to challenge now.
Two years ago they said Federer was finished, and by the end of the year he had finished No. 1, having won two Grand Slam titles and played all four major finals. You have to have a little bit of patience and see how things are going to work out.
With six straight losses in tournament finals to Novak Djokovic last year, Nadal certainly needs something to hang his hat on, and the Federer analogy holds a lot of weight. In my experience, whenever the worst is expected, the best usually comes out.
So, don't write off Nadal just yet. That being said, don't write off Djokovic either. There’s something incredibly special about Novak. People seem to have convinced themselves that he will buckle and Nadal will inevitably catch up with him, but consider this: When Nadal and Federer (and I consider Djokovic to be in the same mould as these guys) hit the top of the rankings, how long did they stay at the top?
Two, maybe three years?
It's a tough call to predict a great year for Nadal, and the same holds if you try to predict a rerun of 2011 for Djokovic. However, don't write either of them off. You have to have a little patience and see how things work out.
Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal: a realistic Australian Open final?