Rafael Nadal needs to beat Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open finals not just for himself, but also for the good of the game. His victory would cap a stunningly excellent Aussie and start the 2012 tennis season off on the right foot.
More on that in a second. First, here is where and when you can catch the first major final of the 2012 season.
Men's Singles Final - Sunday, Jan. 29, at 3 a.m. EST (ESPN2)
Now here is why tennis will be best served with a Rafa victory.
Tennis is at its most tantalizing when there is a fierce rivalry at the top between the biggest stars. Think Connors-McEnroe, Sampras-Agassi or Nadal-Federer.
While Nadal's triumph over Federer in a well-played semifinals match just showed us all that their rivalry is not over, it is no longer a rivalry that dictates titles.
At 30, Federer's best days are behind him. He has embarked on the inevitable slide down the rankings of the ATP and in the relevancy scale of fans.
Novak Djokovic is right there to take the torch from Federer, but no one is going to care unless someone steps up and beats him a few times.
Nadal and Djokovic have certainly played enough times that you could call their pairing a rivalry.
It isn't. It is far too lopsided to be a rivalry.
Nadal had spent his career wiping the court with Djokovic. Then Novak returned the favor by giving Rafa a public dismantling six times in six meetings last year.
That is not a rivalry. That is a victory lap for Djokovic. Nadal must end this trend.
With just one simple Nadal victory over Djokovic here, the 2012 season will become infinitely more interesting. It would suggest that this will be a season with Rafael and Novak butting heads for the right to be No. 1, instead of another Novak Djokovic victory tour.
This will not only lead to a more entertaining season, but will also build a solid foundation for men's tennis as it moves past the Roger Federer era.
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