The 2013 men's tennis season couldn't end with a more fitting match than this.
Rafael Nadal will face Novak Djokovic in the closing match of the 2013 ATP World Tour Finals. Nadal is ranked No. 1 in the world, Djokovic comes in at No. 2, and over the past calendar year, no individual has come close to their extraordinary levels of play.
The question is when will the action transpire and what will we see during this clash of the tennis titans at the O2 Arena in London, England?
|Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal|
|Monday, Nov. 11||3:00 p.m.||O2 Arena||London, England|
Keys to Victory
What makes this match so intriguing is that both Djokovic and Nadal are dynamic players with well-rounded skill sets. That makes the keys for both men difficult to decipher, as Djoker and Nadal can counter even the best of efforts.
Just don't think there aren't points of focus that could decide this match.
The keys for Djokovic will be landing his first serve with consistency and finishing points early. Nadal is one of the best in the world at extending rallies and has dominated Djokovic's second serve in recent matches, which makes those points of emphasis make-or-break for the Serbian.
The most recent meeting between the two sides paints that picture.
According to ATPWorldTour.com, Djokovic converted 71 percent of his first serves during his 6-3, 6-4 win over Nadal at the 2013 China Open. He won 90 percent of the points on his first serve, which set the tone for the match as a whole.
If Djokovic wants to take Nadal down in London, he'll need to engineer a similar level of efficiency.
From there, it's on Djokovic to end points early and avoid the long rallies that play into Nadal's strengths. Nadal is the superior baseline player, and that's far from a slight against the world-class Djokovic, and if it comes down to long rallies, the end result will favor the Spaniard.
If Djokovic is able to land his first serve, charge the net and finish early, he will win this match.
Keys for Nadal
Nadal has the combination of skill and power that enables him to overcome any opponent he faces. When it comes to defeating Djokovic, however, what every player must do is avoid beating themselves.
For Nadal, this match comes down to three major factors: avoiding unforced errors, conquering Djokovic's second serve and extending baseline rallies.
When Nadal defeated Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 at the 2013 U.S. Open, he committed 20 unforced errors with one double fault, per USOpen.org. By comparison, Djokovic fell victim to 53 unforced errors.
It's unlikely that the Serbian star will be that sloppy in London, but if Nadal can limit his own mistakes, he'll be in a position to win.
From there, it's on the Spaniard to do what he does better than anyone else in the world: Crack Djokovic's serve. Nadal won 52 percent of Djokovic's second serves during the 2013 U.S. Open and 47 percent at the 2013 French Open, per RolandGarros.com.
Djokovic is powerful enough to take control, but Nadal will be able to own the pace of this match if he keeps things along the baseline. Djokovic will charge the net, but Nadal's crossing shots are world-class and both his lob and footwork will keep the Serbian star on edge.
It'll be a great match, but if Nadal is to win, he'll need to avoid unforced errors, top Djokovic's second serve and create as many long points as possible.
Over the course of the past calendar year, no individual players has been as dominant as Nadal. He was 71-6 before the ATP World Tour Finals, defeated all four of his opponents to reach the final in London and is now in position to win his 11th singles title of the year.
How can someone bet against that level of success?
Nadal hasn't dropped a set in London, which is an impressive truth considering he's faced Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer, David Ferrer and Stanislas Wawrinka. This isn't to downplay Djokovic's success, but Nadal was untouchable until the most recent month of tennis.
If anyone is prepared to rebound and close out strong, it's the new world's No. 1.
This match has the potential to be an instant classic, as every meeting between these two competitors does. Nadal has defeated Djokovic in two straight Grand Slam events, though, and that's where his advantage lies on this major stage.
Regardless of how this ends, it's going to be an incredible match.
Nadal: 7-5, 6-7 (8-10), 7-5