Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic: Breaking Down 40th Installment of Epic Rivalry

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIMarch 28, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 11:  Rafael Nadal (L) of Spain walks away as Novak Djokovic of Serbia holds the trophy after their men's singles final match during day eight of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at O2 Arena on November 11, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

For the 40th time, we get to experience two greats go up against each other.

For the 40th time, we get to experience one of the most heated rivalries in sports today.

Forty times. We're spoiled, aren't we?

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are set to face off for the 40th time in the Sony Open on Sunday. Their path to the finals were pretty easy. Both of their opponents had to withdraw.

Nadal was set to face Tomas Berdych, until Berdych fell ill:

Djokovic was supposed to face Kei Nishikori, before he withdrew due to a groin injury:

This is actually quite the rarity for a tour-level event, as Christopher Clarey of the New York Times notes:

But none of that really matters, anyway, not when Nadal and Djokovic probably would've advanced regardless. This is Nadal-Djokovic. This is two tennis titans. It's already surpassed Nadal-Federer as the best tennis rivalry of this era, and it's coming close to some of the big rivalries from the '70s and '80s. It is always must-see TV. If history is any indication, it will be a fantastic match.

Nadal leads the all-time series 22-17, although Djokovic has won the last two matches. That said, Nadal has won the last three matches that took place at a Grand Slam event. 

Nadal and Djokovic faced each other in 2011 here in Miami, with Djokovic winning a three-hour marathon 4-6, 6-3, 7-6. They also faced off in Miami in 2007, with Djokovic winning that quarterfinal matchup 6-3,6-4.

But throw that all out the window, because it is impossible to know what's going to happen in Nadal-Djokovic. When the two best tennis players in the game get together, there's no telling what can happen. It's history in the making.

Any prediction is an educated guess, at best, since the two are so evenly matched. I do think Djokovic will win in a thrilling five-set match, only because he has had his way with Nadal of late and has beaten him twice on the hard court of Miami. In addition, Djokovic has been tested more, beating Andy Murray 7-5, 6-3. Nadal avoided Roger Federer and didn't face anyone of note.

For his part, Djokovic is pretty confident, telling the BBC

"I practiced today, 30-40 minutes on centre court, got good rhythm and trying to keep up with what I have been doing. I won in Indian Wells, which gave me a lot of confidence. I've played a lot of matches so hopefully it will pay off."

Forty times. We've been in the front row to history 40 times. The 40th iteration of Nadal-Djokovic should be no different than the previous 39. It will feature the best tennis on tour, between two of the most competitive athletes in the world. Forget about the NCAA tournament. This is the real must-see TV.