Djokovic and Nadal to clash in the Aussie finale

SportsNation
NOVAK DJOKOVIC
RAFAEL NADAL

Djoker's mental edge the difference

Ubha By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com
Archive

Hello, Garbs. Still reeling from your pick, Roger Federer, falling in the semis?

Remember you called my women's pick, Petra Kvitova, a predictable one? Well, come on, just because Roger won all those matches in a row -- outside a Grand Slam -- you thought he was going to waltz into Melbourne and end his two-year major drought? He needed to avoid Rafa and Novak to win.

I can see why you're taking Rafael Nadal in the final, mind you. He's on a tremendous roll after beating not only Federer but an inspired Tomas Berdych. And when he's confident, he's nearly impossible to stop.

But there's one man who has been able to take care of business against him -- Mr. Novak Djokovic. Let me remind you of the number: six. Oh, yes. That's how many times, as you well know, Novak has beaten Rafa in a row. It includes the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals. So, heading in, he already has a major psychological edge.

Yes, I know what you're going to say, that if Djokovic has more breathing difficulties, he'll be punished by Nadal. He's indeed a significant step up from Andy Murray and David Ferrer, who weren't able to take full advantage of his physical foibles.

But Djokovic fought through his problems, more evidence of his increased maturity. Two years ago he either would have retired or tanked.

I'm less worried about his recovery from his five-hour semi against Murray. Hey, if Rafa can win after a grueling semifinal encounter in Melbourne, a la 2009, there's no reason Novak can't.

What, game wise, can Nadal do to hurt Djokovic? His serve hasn't been impressive (it was at the 2010 U.S. Open), while Novak has the ability to register more free points on his own serve. Novak will just keep hammering his two-handed backhand to Rafa's forehand -- and with success.

As great of a champion as he is, Nadal will make some unwanted history: He'll become the first man in the Open era to lose in three consecutive Grand Slam finals.

Novak in four.

Experience will serve Rafa well

Garber By Greg Garber
ESPN.com
Archive

Ravi, I know you've been grinding for better than a fortnight Down Under -- we sincerely appreciate the effort -- but don't let that cloud your thinking.

Did you see that semifinal match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray? Nearly five hours. All kinds of physical and mental stress. Brutal. Djokovic was lucky to live through it, and afterward, when he collapsed on the court, I wondered if he was going to get up. At one point, he pointed to his nose, signaling to his camp that he was having difficulty breathing. Then he joked he was going to go back to the hotel and do some pushups. Right. I'm pretty sure he was curled up in a ball, taking oxygen and a half-dozen bananas.

You and all the other Rafa doubters are going to bring up recent history. Sure, the big 6-0 from 2011. I'll grant you, it's a daunting mountain to climb. I never have seen Rafael Nadal so perplexed as after that loss in the Wimbledon final -- unless it was after losing to Djokovic in the U.S. Open final. But Murray's gallant performance took a lot of starch out of Djokovic. And, he had a one-day recovery period, as opposed to two for Rafa. You cannot underestimate the impact this will have on their match.

The Spaniard always talks about finding solutions. He was a classic clay-courter, playing 10 feet behind the baseline, but he found a way to challenge Roger Federer on the grass at Wimbledon and, eventually, beat him. The same thing happened in Melbourne the next year. If all things were equal physically, I wouldn't be so sure, but I think Djokovic is vulnerable here.

Personally, I'm looking forward to this one. It's the third straight time these two have met for a Grand Slam singles title, and despite his injury issues, Rafa has the edge. This is his 10th major final appearance since 2008, one more than Federer and twice as many as Djokovic. That experience, I believe, will serve him well.

I see where you're going with this, Ravi. You're saying that, like Rafa's eclipsing of Federer, Djokovic in turn has become Nadal's master. Well, Rafa is only 11 months older than his Serbian counterpart. It's not over, yet. The longer this match goes, the better.

Nadal in five.