Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will have to come up with one heck of an encore to follow up their sensational semifinal matches at the Australian Open. The day after Nadal battled back from an opening-set loss to earn a hard-fought victory over Roger Federer, Djokovic punched his ticket to meet Nadal in the final by grinding out a five-set epic over Andy Murray.
Even as tough as their respective roads to the final were, it hardly comes as a surprise to see a Nadal-Djokovic matchup to determine a major title. This weekend will mark the third consecutive Grand Slam final featuring this pairing.
Although the rivalry started off as a back-and-forth affair, Djokovic’s extraordinary 2011 momentum included a new-found dominance over his Spanish foe. The pair faced off six times last year (most recently that pair of showdowns at the finals for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open), with Djokovic winning all six.
The new year, however, will see a new result for Nadal against the Serbian star. While both men have shown determination to spare in Melbourne, Nadal’s grit has come in service of sharper play on the court.
Over his last two matches—a total of eight sets—Nadal has committed just 64 unforced errors. Djokovic had 69 of them in the semifinals alone, part of the reason that match stretched out to nearly five hours before he came out a winner.
Nadal’s aggressive style has frequently helped him create more errors for his opponent than he commits himself, and he’ll look to do the same against Djokovic. With a lot of long rallies likely between two competitors who don’t record a ton of aces, Nadal’s ability to avoid beating himself will make the difference in another back-and-forth struggle.
Women’s Singles Final: ESPN2, Saturday at 3:00 a.m. ET
Men’s Singles Final: ESPN2, Sunday at 3:00 a.m. ET