Men's Tennis: 5 Reasons Rafael Nadal Will Beat Novak Djokovic in the Miami Final
So, our finalists are confirmed. Yesterday, Rafael Nadal defeated his arch-rival Roger Federer in straight sets, in what turned out a blowout letdown, 6-3, 6-2. Waiting in his hotel room anxiously at that point was Novak Djokovic, who had earlier in the day drowned Mardy Fish 6-3 ,6-1.
Incredibly, we are witnessing a rivalry that could one day transcend that of the legendary Federer-Nadal. This pair have played 24 times already, at scarcely the age of 25, with Nadal leading 16-8.
Last week was only the latest installment in what has become an increasingly engrossing affair, as Djokovic won the Indian Wells final, returning from down a set to win, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Will tomorrow's final be any different? Here are some reasons why that might well be the case.
1: Nadal Just Beat Federer
The first and most obvious one? Nadal has just come off a thrashing of Roger Federer, the oft-touted greatest player of all time.
To have beaten such a fine player, indeed to have made such short work of him, ought to prove a confidence booster. Yes, Djokovic too has beaten Federer three times this year.
If that should be anything of a statistic, it would be that the victor over Federer has gone on to win that particular tournament. At all of Djokovic's victories this year so far, he has defeated Federer at some point.
Will it prove the same for Nadal this time?
2: An Improved Serve
One of the biggest complaints about Nadal's performance at Indian Wells last week was the relative inefficiency of his serve. Djokovic, no doubt, is the world's greatest returner, but Nadal's serve should, nowadays, stand up better to pressure.
At the US Open final last year, for instance, his new and improved, pacier serve proved a key winning ingredient. It has showed itself this week so far, and certainly did yesterday, leaving Federer often guessing, or simply unable to return the ball effectively.
Nadal's uncanny ability to vary the spin and pace of his serve, flattening out his delivery, hitting the kicker, or the slider on the ad court, is an invaluable asset, which was unfortunately amiss at the Indian Wells final.
Moreover, should Nadal's first-serve percentage make a sustained appearance in the final tomorrow, there will be little doubt, at the least, that even Novak Djokovic will have his work cut out.
3: Slower Conditions Favour Defense, Top Spin
There is little mystery in the fact that anyone who plays Nadal has to be aggressive. Djokovic, of all people, would know this best. Indeed, he has done so successfully, on eight occasions.
Last week, it was the Spaniard who, more often than not, forced himself into the aggressive position, and consequently found himself erring on too many crucial points.
It was an unusual situation: Nadal, the greatest defender, being forced to play offensively, indeed uncomfortably so, against someone who simply refused to budge.
Djokovic may indeed be tennis' new great defender: sublime on hard courts, and impervious to any assault, it seems.
Yet against Nadal tomorrow, he will likely be the aggressor, as he attempts to avoid the wearing down which the Spaniard's game intends.
The slower conditions of Miami will doubtless favour the defender, while the main court is not too unaccommodating to high top-spun groundies, either.
Djokovic will press hard, but will probably find himself up against it. In moments of exhaustion or despair, the Mallorcan bull will strike with devastating impact.
4: Nadal Leads 16-8 in the Head to Head
Everybody knows every tennis match is a new day, and the greatest champions would take this to mean that a new opportunity is present at every waking. Nadal is no different.
In fact, even if we are to take history into consideration, it is clear that Nadal holds the edge. Leading 16-8, he has proven his stronger mental edge in the biggest matches.
Djokovic in fact leads 8-5 in their hard court meetings, but Nadal 5-1 in their meetings in finals. Last week's victory was the first new aberration, and perhaps the dawning of a new era: Novak not only beating Nadal in a final, but coming back from a set down to do so.
In the biggest moments, and their most epic encounters, when both players have given it their all, Nadal has invariably come out on top, match point down or not (as it proved at the Madrid semifinal in 2009, by far their best match yet).
In the most intense moments, Nadal has been able to lift his game just enough to earn the W. We expect him to give it his all tomorrow, and little will impede him in such a mood.
5: Revenge, the Greatest Motivator
Rafael Nadal, most people would know, hardly comes across as a vengeful man.
Indeed of the many great champions in history, he is by far one of the most elegant and well-mannered, as well as humble, that tennis has known.
Nonetheless, tomorrow would be a fine moment for some fiery, aggressive feelings. He would be seeking, firstly, to avenge his loss to Djokovic last week, which must surely have stung. He had led by a set, and was yet unable to finish it off.
It was most uncharacteristic, especially of a world number one. To set down this ambitious Serb, this chest-pumping upstart, would be a high priority, if only to assure the world that his kingdom hold on tennis is still unchallenged.
Secondly, Nadal would probably be harbouring some vengeful feelings of a more long-standing nature. Miami, after all, is the place where he had twice before reached the final, only to lose in that last round.
In 2005, he lost a heartbreaker to Roger Federer, when he was within two points of the title, and in 2008, he was soundly beaten by Nikolay Davydenko in straight sets.
Three years on, he has another chance at the title. If for nothing else, greed and desire should impel this most implacable of players to victory.