Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to renew rivalry in Australian Open final
Djokovic leads head to head 27-25; Repeat of 2012 Australian Open final which Serb won 7-5 in fifth set after five hours and 53 minutes
By Mathieu Wood
Last Updated: 26/01/19 1:41pm
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will renew one of tennis’ standout rivalries when the pair meet in the Australian Open final on Sunday.
Rod Laver Arena will witness the 53rd meeting of the two greats - the most prolific match-up in the men's game - and their latest showdown appears set to surpass even their most memorable encounters.
While Djokovic is aiming for a third successive Grand Slam title to claim a fifteenth all told, Nadal is aiming for just his second success and first in a decade at Melbourne Park.
Having lost his last three showpiece encounters at the Australian Open - including a remarkable near-six hour defeat against Djokovic in 2012 - Nadal is not short of motivation as he aims to move within two Grand Slam titles of all-time record holder Roger Federer.
How they compare ahead of final
World No 1 vs world No 2 - the contest couldn't be more enticing.
Djokovic returned to the summit of the men's game after a two-year absence towards the end of last season after a resurgence in form which saw him win Wimbledon and the US Open back-to-back.
The Serb was beaten by Roberto Bautista Agut in the Qatar Open semi-final earlier this month but has appeared intent on sealing a record seventh men's title in Melbourne, dropping just one set each in matches against Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev.
Nadal, meanwhile, has looked imperious, reaching the final without losing a set, and this is all in his first tournament since retiring from his US Open semi-final against Juan Marin del Potro last September. Sensational.
As if Sunday's chance to add more silverware to the 32-year-old's cabinet wasn't enough to inspire the Spaniard, he can also become the first man in the Open era to win each of the four Grand Slams at least twice.
A decade on from Nadal's solitary success in Melbourne, courtesy of a five-set victory against Roger Federer in the final, will he manage to hold aloft the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup again?
Djokovic comes into the match as the slight favourite based on his major success in the past six months and also having won eight of his last 10 meetings against Nadal.
"He has played impressively well throughout the entire tournament. He hasn't dropped a set. He looked as good as ever on the hard court throughout these few weeks.”
Novak Djokovic on Rafael Nadal
Far too many to recount but the 2012 Australian Open final saw the top-two ranked players at the time produce a pulsating battle of endurance.
Seven minutes shy of the six-hour mark and Djokovic collapsed to the ground in the realisation he had won his fifth and certainly most arduous of major crowns. To this day it remains the longest Grand Slam final.
"Unfortunately there couldn't be two winners and I hope we have many more matches like this," said Djokovic.
That there have been.
Just over a year later and the pair met again in the 2013 French Open semi-final, with Djokovic aiming to dethrone defending champion Nadal and maintain his hopes to secure the career Grand Slam.
Another marathon contest ensued but this time it was Spain's 'King of Clay' who overcame concerns over his creaking knees to edge a thrilling final set 9-7 and leave Djokovic disconsolate.
 @DjokerNole and  @RafaelNadal will meet for just 2nd time at #AusOpen. In 2012 @AustralianOpen final, Djokovic defeated Nadal in longest match of both men's careers (5:53). Their most recent meeting in 2018 @Wimbledon SF was 2nd-longest match of both men's careers (5:15).— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) January 25, 2019
The duo then met in last year's Wimbledon semi-finals, as Djokovic outlasted Nadal after an enthralling five-set encounter, spread over two days, and in doing so rubber stamped the theory Djokovic's injury troubles were in the past and his aura had returned.
Away from the Grand Slam stage and a certain Masters Series encounter in 2009 deserves particular recognition.
Djokovic won five more points than his opponent but after taking the first set squandered three match points in an epic four-hour best-of-three contest.
"It's very disappointing to play as well as I have and still lose the match. I played one of my best matches ever," said Djokovic.
Grand Slam meetings
|2018||Wimbledon - SF||Djokovic||6-4 3-6 7-6 (11-9) 3-6 10-8|
|2015||French Open - QF||Djokovic||7-5 6-3 6-1|
|2014||French Open - F||Nadal||3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4|
|2013||US Open - F||Nadal||6-2 3-6 6-4 6-1|
|2013||French Open - SF||Nadal||6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 9-7|
|2012||French Open - F||Nadal||6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5|
|2012||Australian Open - F||Djokovic||5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5|
|2011||Wimbledon - F||Djokovic||6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3|
|2010||US Open - F||Nadal||6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2|
|2008||French Open - SF||Nadal||6-4 6-2 7-6 (7-3)|
|2007||Wimbledon - SF||Nadal||3-6 6-1 4-1 RET|
|2007||French Open - SF||Nadal||7-5 6-4 6-2|
|2006||French Open - QF||Nadal||6-4 6-4 RET|
14-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic told the media after his gruelling fourth-round victory against Medvedev he 'didn't feel so great' in the latter moments, having earlier joked in his on-court interview he had 'never felt fresher'.
Since that match against the Russian, Djokovic benefited from an injury retirement by Kei Nishikori, which led to the Serb admitting that was what the doctor had ordered, before he dismissed Lucas Pouille in devastating fashion.
If @DjokerNole wins on Sunday, he will break tie with Roy Emerson and @RogerFederer for most #AusOpen men's singles titles of all time (7).— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) January 25, 2019
Djokovic would also break tie with Pete Sampras for 3rd-most Grand Slam titles of all time (15) behind Federer's 20 and @RafaelNadal's 17.
"I guess you're driven by some force that takes over you, and you feel divine. You feel like in a different dimension," Djokovic said after victory against Pouille. "It's quite an awesome feeling that we all try to reach and stay in. Probably the biggest challenge is how to repeat that, how to stay there for as long as you possibly can."
Nadal conceded after his ruthless victory against Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas in Thursday's semi-final that his run through the draw had even taken him by surprise.
Since the tournament started I've felt really, really well.
Ahead of his 25th Grand Slam final, the Spaniard is full of confidence and rightly so, after the variety of injury issues which curtailed his campaign last year.
"To start the season like this when a few weeks ago when I was in Brisbane, having to take a very tough decision not to play there. In that moment it was difficult for me to imagine where I am today. Since the tournament started I've felt really, really well."
Victory for Djokovic would mark a third successive major title and underline his status firmly as the world's best, while for Nadal it would move him closer to Federer's Grand Slam haul and end his recent memory of showpiece defeats in Melbourne.
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