Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal: 5 Bold Predictions for Australian Open Final

Paul Grossinger@@pgrossingerAnalyst IIJanuary 29, 2012

Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal: 5 Bold Predictions for Australian Open Final

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    Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open Final: it's the best men's tennis has to offer!

    The Djokovic vs. Nadal battle is tennis' emerging duel rivalry!  The two have met 29 times, which is the sixth most meetings of any two players in tennis' Open Era—but it is really only beginning. Up until now, Nadal holds a 16-13 overall edge in matches won, but Djokovic has won 10 of their 15 hard-court battles.  Similarly, Nadal has dominated the rivalry for most of its existence, but Djokovic edged the gap last year by dominating Nadal in both the 2011 Wimbledon and 2011 US Open Finals.

    Knowing that, it's time to take a look at five bold predictions for what will happen in tomorrow's Australian Open Final...

Novak Djokovic Will Win the First Set

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    Surprise will certainly play a role in tomorrow's Australian Open final, but Novak Djokovic is very likely to take the first set.

    Why, you might ask?

    Djokovic is likely to come out strong, which has been his trademark so far at this tournament.  He won the first set of his marathon semifinal match with Andy Murray 6-3, dominated his first two sets with Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 6-3, and did not drop a set before the quarterfinal.

    By contrast, Rafael Nadal has started slow in his matches at this tournament.  He lost the first set of his semifinal match to Roger Federer 7-6 (5) before recovering midway through the second set.  He also lost a first-set tiebreaker to Tomas Berdych in his quarterfinal match and did not gain control until he wrested the second set away late in the tiebreaker.

    Plus, dominating early with aggressive ball-strokes is Djokovic's new-found style while Nadal has always been a baseline grinder who wins points off sheer grit and awe-inspiring defensive play. So, Djokovic is very likely to hit the ground running and take control of the match early.

Rafael Nadal Will Bounce Back and Win the Second Set

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    Novak Djokovic will be aggressive and win the first set.  But Rafael Nadal will not go down easily and he is likely to bounce back and win the second set of the Australian Open final.  

    Djokovic has started his matches very well in this tournament, but his performance has dipped in the second set. Against Andy Murray, Djokovic lost the second set 6-3 and lost all momentum in the match when he went down two sets to one after losing a third-set tiebreaker.  It was a testament to his gritty determination that he went on to win the fourth set 6-1 and take the match, but he nearly lost the match when he took his foot off the gas pedal.  

    Nadal's performance is the exact opposite: After lackluster opening performances, he has tightened his play and gained control of his matches in the second and third sets.  Against Roger Federer, he rebounded from the first-set tiebreaker loss to drub his rival 6-2 and maintained that momentum through his third-set tiebreaker win to close out the match in four sets.  Similarly, against Berdych, he won a second-set tiebreaker and used that momentum to win without having to go to a final set.  

    Interestingly, it's not just the paper results that show these respective differences—you could see it in their play: Djokovic's performance visibly dipped against Murray midway through the match as he battled fatigue and heat sickness.  For Nadal, the issue seems to be nagging injuries; it takes him a while to get his muscles moving and let his toughness and adrenaline take over.  

    So, it's quite likely that the match will be 1-1 when it enters the third set—but will Djokovic or Nadal run away with it?  

Rafael Nadal Will Call out an Official

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    My personal favorite prediction and I have not been wrong yet!

    It's been a tough tournament for Australian Open officials.  Multiple players, including Roger Federer, have called them out for bad rulings.  Rafael Nadal is no exception—in fact, his blast toward a referee in the earlier rounds was one of the worst in the whole tournament. 

    It will be a tough, physical match and there is little chance that every single call will go unchallenged.

Novak Djokovic Will Win in Four Sets

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    Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will have a competitive, physical Australian Open final.  No one would be shocked if Nadal wins the day.  He is a 10-time Grand Slam titlist and arguably the best tennis player alive (yes, I know many of you love Roger Federer, but Nadal is 18-9 against him lifetime and beat him again this week, so that is definitely a debate worth having).  

    But there is no doubting that Djokovic looks like the better bet right now.  He has played a nearly flawless tournament, his only sign of trouble was being down two sets to one against Andy Murray.  By contrast, Nadal has struggled through his matches and, while he has won all six, has not looked dominant in any of them.  

    Djokovic also looks healthier.  Nadal is always fit and, healthy or not, he will put up a fight.  But he is struggling with several nagging injuries and, as the match drags on, they may rear their ugly heads.

    Most important, Djokovic has dominated Nadal recently and is the better hard-court player.  Although Nadal holds a 16-13 edge in their rivalry, Djokovic has beaten him six consecutive times stretching back to 2010.  He also holds a 10-5 edge on hard courts and the Australian Open is his favorite Grand Slam tournament.

    Rafael Nadal will eventually break his losing streak against Djokovic.  It just will not be in the Australian Open final.  

Rafael Nadal Will Get His Revenge in the 2012 French Open Final

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    Rafael Nadal's revenge is coming!  As all Nadal fans know, he lives for the clay-court season.  Whatever struggles Nadal may be having on the other surfaces (losing to Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007 and his long-time US Open struggles up to 2010, to name a few), they tend to go away when he sets foot on the red clay.

    The 2012 French Open is likely to come down to another showdown between Djokovic and Nadal. Sure, Roger Federer could crash the party, but is that really likely? And, if he does not, who else in the field really stands a chance of getting in the way of their date with destiny?

    When Djokovic and Nadal do clash in the 2012 French Open final, look for Rafa to end his Grand Slam losing streak against the Serb.  His overall record against Djokovic may be close, but he is 9-2 against him on clay.  

    That domination isn't likely to end anytime soon.