Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal: Tennis' Best Rivalry Renewed at US Open Final

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12:   (L-R) Rafael Nadal of Spain and Novak Djokovic of Serbia pose for a photo prior to playing against each other during the Men's Final on Day Fifteen of the 2011 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 12, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

After a tournament of upsets, we have the final that everyone wanted—on Monday evening (yes, Monday, go ahead and get your work excuses ready), No. 1 Novak Djokovic will meet No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open final for the third time in the last four years.

It's slated to be another chapter in what has become the best rivalry in men's tennis. 

This will be their 37th meeting and their fourth in 2013. Nadal leads the head-to-head 21-15 and has won two out of three of their matches this year, including their epic five-setter in the semifinals of the French Open.

They've met so often in their careers and had so many battles that even Nadal is starting to get sick of it, as he joked in his post-semifinal press conference.

The stakes are always high when these two meet, but there seems to be more than usual riding on Monday's meeting.

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Despite the fact that Djokovic has six Grand Slams and Nadal has 12, and they've both had success on hard courts in their career, both have only won the U.S. Open once.

Additionally, they both have only one major this year—not extraordinary by their own lofty standards—and both will be trying to steal the edge in the player of the year debate. Djokovic will still be No. 1 after this tournament no matter what, but Nadal has a significant lead in the year-to-date rankings.

Tennis fans have always known that Nadal and Djokovic bring out the best in one another, but their three meetings this year have somehow elevated their already-heated rivalry to higher levels. 

They first met in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters event on clay in April, and Djokovic shocked the world by taking out an on-fire Nadal 6-2, 7-6 (1) to stop Nadal's unthinkable run of eight straight Monte Carlo titles.

But it didn't take Nadal long to get revenge. The two squared off next in the semifinals of the French Open. Djokovic was up a break in the fifth set, but Nadal came back to win the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7 in a contest that many consider to be the best of the year. The loss ended Djokovic's opportunity at a career Grand Slam (meaning at least one title at all four majors).

Then the two took their rivalry to hard courts when they faced off in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup Masters in Montreal. That time, their meeting went to a dramatic third-set tiebreaker, which Nadal ended up taking 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2).

And now, a month later, the two best players in the world meet again. This time, it's for all the marbles.

Both have had somewhat straightforward paths to get here. In fact, they've both spent almost an identical amount of time on the court leading up to Monday's final.

Djokovic, however, had the much tougher semifinal. The world No. 1 was pushed to five sets by an inspired Stanislas Wawrinka on Saturday afternoon, but he finally found a way to come through 2-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, despite the fact that he didn't play his best tennis. 

This is Djokovic's fourth consecutive U.S. Open final, and the Serb will surely be motivated to improve upon his 1-3 record in those finals. To do so, he's going to have to get past the biggest test in tennis, Rafael Nadal.

"Well, it's always the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport now," Djokovic told reporters (per USOpen.com) after his semifinal. "I mean, he's the ultimate competitor out there. He's fighting for every ball and he's playing probably the best tennis that he ever played on hard courts."

Nadal, meanwhile, only needed three sets to dismiss the huge underdog Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-6, 6-2. The Spaniard seems to be playing the best tennis of his career on hard courts, which is a scary thought considering he already has two Slams on what was formerly his worst surface. 

The world No. 2 is actually undefeated on hard courts this year, having won 21 straight matches and three titles in 2013. 

So while Djokovic leads the head-to-head over Nadal 11-6 on hard courts, this final is definitely up for grabs.

One thing is certain, though: Don't make any Monday evening plans. We're likely in for another long, epic chapter in the most entertaining matchup in tennis. 

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