This match will go down in the history books as two modern greats battle it out for a record 45th time in their illustrious career. It is Novak Djokovic Vs Rafael Nadal in the China Open finals.
Novak is bidding for a sixth crown in six attempts at this tournament. He holds a perfect 28-0 (win–loss) record and has now won 25 straight sets here. For Nadal, it is about ending his season’s disappointment and getting back to winning ways. A win here will fetch him the precious 500 ATP points, as he looks to secure one of the four spots remaining at the year-end ATP World Tour Finals.
Last time these two played, Novak won in straight sets 7-5 6-3 6-1. It was at this year’s French Open quarterfinals. Even though Rafa leads the head to head record 23-21, Novak has won in six of their previous seven meetings. The last time Rafa won against the Serb was in French Open finals of 2014.
Clearly, Novak comes into the finals as favourite. Rafa must play his best tennis of the year to even come close to beating the numero uno. There are three areas in his game he should focus on to play that level of tennis.
One is his service. Not because first serve is Rafa’s biggest weapon but because Djokovic’s return this week, and even all his career has been outstanding. For instance, in his semi-finals match, Djokovic broke Ferrer’s service 6 times! Nadal cannot allow this to happen in the finals. It requires only one service break to win a set, and once broken it becomes extremely difficult to break back against front runners of Novak’s quality.
Second is coming to the net. Rafa’s volleys are one of the most underrated areas of his game. Rafa can build the play with his heavy forehands and drag the Serbian off court and then rush to net as soon as the opportunity is there. He can use this approach to upset Novak’s rhythm and unsettle him. With Djokovic uncomfortable in coming to the net, Rafa can certainly use this tactic to great use. Rafa’s success with net points can play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the match.
Third is the mindset. Rafa needs to come into the match with a nothing to lose mindset. With a cabinet overloaded with trophies and a career filled with records, it is difficult to have such a mindset but at this stage of his career, Rafa can use this approach. This will make him feel more relaxed and allow him to play his best tennis.
Rafa after his semi-finals victory:
“I know today Novak is not in my league; he has been on a different level to me this year. So for me to be in the final is great news and tomorrow is a match to try to enjoy and try to play the way that I want to play, and we’ll see.”
If Rafa can perform well in these three departments, we are in for a great match!