Tennis fans will get exactly what they want on the final Monday of the 2013 U.S. Open when top-ranked superstars Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal face off in the men's championship for the third time in four years.
The world No. 1 and world No. 2 will meet for the sixth time in a Grand Slam final, and for the 37th time since 2006. Nadal leads the overall head-to-head 21-15, but is just 2-3 against his arch rival in major finals.
But with a second career U.S. Open title on the line for each competitor on Monday, the stakes can't get any higher.
Below we'll examine the keys to success for each contender in Monday's championship.
Novak Djokovic's Keys to Success
Picking His Spots on Return
Djokovic is hands-down the best returner in men's tennis, and that's why it will be critical that he picks his spots wisely in Monday's final.
If the world No. 1 falls behind early in a Nadal service game, he's better off conceding the game and preserving his body for the late stages. On the other hand, if he can take advantage of Nadal's second serves and get ahead in the count, his ability to run down balls and utilize the backhand down the line will be key in earning him break-point opportunities.
That'll be huge considering that those opportunities don't come around often against Nadal.
Limit the Unforced Errors
The world No. 1 has struggled mightily to keep his unforced error count down in his previous two wins over Mikhail Youzhny and Stanislas Wawrinka, recording 45 and 46 against each player, respectively.
While Djokovic has had a combined 70 winners over the past two rounds, his high error count has put him in trouble on several occasions. And Nadal is simply too good a player for Djokovic to gift-wrap points to.
Sure, Djokovic will have to be bold and take his fair share of chances in order to beat Nadal in a best-of-five-set showdown, but netting balls and forcing the issue will only cause him to become more frustrated while making Rafa's job that much easier.
Rafael Nadal's Keys to Success
As already mentioned, Djokovic is an exceptional returner. That means that Nadal must be able to put his first serve in play at least two-thirds of the time on Monday.
Rafa has been hovering around the 70-percent mark through the first six rounds, putting 71 percent of his first serves in the box against Richard Gasquet in the semifinals.
The reason that's so important is because Nadal went on to win 76 percent of those points against Gasquet compared to just 57 percent of his second-serve points. Nadal is winning roughly 80 percent of his first-serve points for the tournament, which is great news for him assuming he can remain accurate on Monday.
Jump Ahead Early
Another key for Nadal on Monday will be starting fast and getting ahead early on the scoreboard.
Who will win the opening set, match on Monday?
Rafa has won five of six opening sets through the first six rounds and has come out fast in every match. Meanwhile, Djokovic fell into an early hole against Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals and has shown in the past that he can sometimes be a slow starter.
Therefore, Nadal will need to jump out quickly and set the tone for the match. If Djokovic gets a lead on his preferred surface, Rafa's flawless 21-0 hard-court record could be in jeopardy.
In each of their past two meetings in the U.S. Open final, the winner of the first set has gone on to win the match each time.
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