If you expect to defeat Rafael Nadal these days, you better be in top form.
Novak Djokovic may be the No. 1 player in the world, but he is certainly not in top form.
And you can expect the world No. 1 to lose to Nadal in the men's final of the 2013 U.S. Open on Monday.
Before facing Stanislas Wawrinka on Saturday, Djokovic had yet to face a top-10 seed in Flushing Meadows. Against No. 21 seed Mikhail Youzhny, the 26-year-old Serb curiously dropped the third set, 6-3, before eventually winning the match in four sets. It took him more than two-and-a-half hours to dispose of Youzhny.
He ran into a red-hot opponent in Wawrinka on Saturday, so a battle was expected. After all, Wawrinka had just defeated world No. 3 Andy Murray—in straight sets, no less.
But it wasn't like the world No. 1 played superb tennis to defeat Wawrinka on Saturday. In fact, Wawrinka made a lot of mistakes.
He committed a whopping 69 unforced errors against Djokovic, via USOpen.org. He also posted seven double faults.
That overshadowed the fact that Djokovic committed 46 unforced errors and posted six double faults. This, after he committed 45 unforced errors against Youzhny.
Granted, Nadal wasn't perfect on Saturday. But the world No. 2 still defeated No. 8 seed Richard Gasquet in straight sets. Comparatively, he posted 24 unforced errors and one double fault, via USOpen.org.
He also displayed some masterful moments, including winning this point in the third and final set, via the U.S. Open's official Twitter account:
The beauty of Djokovic's game has always been his ability to continue to come back at you. He returns your best shots, leaving you exasperated and demoralized by the end of it all.
But when he is committing 40-plus unforced errors in matches, he loses that mystique. He was still better than Wawrinka on Saturday, but he was hardly dominant, and there were times Wawrinka appeared to actually frustrate him.
Nobody is unstoppable in tennis—Nadal included—but it's obvious at this point that Djokovic isn't showing the form needed to stop a legend like Nadal.
Expect Nadal's magical 2013 campaign to continue on Monday, while questions continue to surround Djokovic.