Nadal vs. Djokovic: Why Australian Open Final Result Means More to Rafa

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2012

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29:  Rafael Nadal of Spain looks on between games in his men's final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during day fourteen of the 2012 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 29, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The result of the men's singles final at Australian Open 2012 on Sunday means much more to the future of No. 2-ranked tennis star Rafael Nadal than it does top-seeded Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic has taken the last six matches between the two rivals, and is quickly catching up to the 25-year-old Spaniard in hardware and legacy. Although Rafa still holds a decision advantage in Grand Slam titles—he led 10-4 heading into the Aussie Open—he only leads the head-to-head between the two 16-13 through 29 matches.

Other than the great Roger Federer, no other tennis player in the world can challenge or threaten Nadal the way Djokovic can. The Djoker is the only player to beat Nadal in at least 10 matches, and the only player other than Federer to have defeated Nadal in a Grand Slam final. Djokovic was 2-1 for his career in Grand Slam finals against Nadal heading into the Australian Open.

With Federer's game beginning to trend downward with his increasing age, however, men's tennis is in the hands of either Nadal or Djokovic. The Djoker looks to be in control of the sport's top spot for now, but Nadal's effort in the Australian Open final can go a long way in redetermining that top spot with three major tournaments still left, two of which are played on clay and grass, surfaces where Nadal leads Djokovic 11-3 all-time.

The 2012 French Open may be Nadal's best shot at returning to championship form if things don't pan out Down Under on Sunday, and if not, Djokovic will be a consensus No. 1 for months and perhaps even years to come if he can prove he is better than Nadal on virtually every surface.

A seventh consecutive loss to Djokovic would only solidify Nadal as the second best, which isn't quite good enough for a 10-time major champion.

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