The 100th Australian Open 2012 men’s singles final is being played today at 7:30pm in Melbourne between Novak DJOKOVIC and Rafael NADAL.
The current World Number One and defending Australian Open champion, Novak Djokovic served up an emphatic lesson to all by coming through his 5-set semi final to win against a valiant Andy Murray. Djokovic prevailed in 4 hours and 50 minutes after looking physically stressed in the first half of the match.
What was the lesson you ask? The lesson is never count a player out until the umpire calls, “Game, Set, Match” to his opponent.
A true understanding of tennis tells us that no matter how one-sided a match may be, whether a player has one, two or even four consecutive match points, that the dynamics of a match can change repeatedly at any time throughout a match.
Consider yourself blessed to witness a final between the number one and two seeds, both of whom, in the past, have achieved the World Number One ranking, won three out of four Grand Slam singles titles in a calendar year – Nadal in 2010 and Djokovic in 2011 – have beaten Roger Federer multiple times late in Grand Slam events and share 15 Grand Slam titles between them. In light of these facts it is absolutely ridiculous to deem one player a favourite and the other an underdog in today’s final.
Both players are true champions who have continuously demonstrated that they possess unbelievable stores of self-belief, mental discipline, determination, concentration and heart. Regardless of how much of an advantage you think the 1.85m Nadal has by getting an extra day to rest or because of how big a toll Djokovic’s semi final match will take on his body or how Djokovic has had Nadal’s measure in the past six matches, YOU can bet your bottom dollar that none of that will count for anything once the chair umpire says, “play” today.
This match promises to be a fiercely competitive baseline war of pride, an intense emotional roller coaster and an epic fist pumping, chest-beating tussle for the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.
Do not forget this match up came perilously close to not occurring at all.
The 25-year-old Nadal was a point away from being two sets to love down against Tomas Berdych in the quarter finals and it was only Djokovic’s ability to save critical points against Murray that got him over the line.
Djokovic has won their last six matches in a row, with major wins at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships and the 2011 US Open. The playing style of both players is very similar with both players possessing every shot in the book with an equal ability to cover the court effectively. The 1.88m Djokovic ventures towards being aggressive and dictating play more often than Nadal and would be well served to play ultra aggressively today, turning up the pressure when returning Rafa’s second serve.
Both players can play aggressively when they chose to and are extremely good in defending. They have the ability to be patient whilst probing for opportunities to gain an advantage, however the consistency of their first serves really fluctuates. In any service game where either player misses the majority of his first serves, the probability that he will have his service game broken is extremely high in light of the amazing return of serve strengths of both players.
The player who can release their mind from the pressure, expectation, tension and self-doubt at the key moments will prevail. The service motion is particularly prone to the crippling effects of tension and self-doubt. To be able to serve towards his best, a player needs high confidence, relaxation, looseness and fluidity. Serving for a set, serving during a tiebreak and serving for the championship are the most critical moments in a match where the service motion can be severely affected. Look for drama and the display of true championship qualities at these critical junctures.
In terms of strokes, on average, Nadal definitely produces a greater amount of forehand winners than his opponent. On the other hand however, Djokovic tends to produce a greater amount of backhand winners. Look for Nadal to try to play his strongest shot, his forehand, into Djokovic’s weaker ground stroke, his forehand. Overall, these players will have a lot of respect for each other. Given this will be their 30th tour match, they know each others games inside out, which almost guarantees high quality tennis!
Djokovic holds the clear advantage going into tonight’s match. He has more efficiently produced ground strokes, produces flatter strokes with more penetration through his opponent’s side of the court and is able to close the gaps on his own side of the court. Djokovic’s greater equality of his ground stroke prowess gives him the edge on faster surfaces like grass and hard courts. He also seizes the opportunities, when they arise, to play higher speed, flatter strokes into the strength of his opponent, which can be decisive in who holds the upper hand in baseline exchanges.
Nadal however tends to play with more topspin, particularly from his forehand, making it more difficult for him to rush Djokovic. The left-handed Spaniard also runs around far too many backhands, which opens up more gaps on his side of the net. In a testament to the true greatness of Rafa he has the uncanny knack of finding a way to win in the face of these perceived disadvantages.
Due to the fact that tennis is not even close to being about who has the better strokes or game style, Nadal has been able to win 10 Grand Slam singles titles to date, due to a large extent, to his superior level of strategy and tactics. The Spaniard continually sifts through his expansive range of tactics to make sure his opponent faces a high degree of difficulty and is unable to play his best stuff.
Nadal has proven so many times in the past that he almost always comes through with a title from this stage of a Grand Slam singles event. There is no doubt that Nadal will use every ounce of his physical reserves to give himself the best opportunity to bite into his second Australian Open trophy.
Tennis is all about who, whilst under pressure, on the critical key points and at the pivotal swing moments in a match, can produce the higher quality of tennis. Whoever overcomes the huge mental challenges when it counts, is able to execute their game style, implements the most effective tactics and can summon their highest quality movement and stroke production will clearly emerge victorious. It really doesn’t matter what anyone says about what will happen and who will win today because the only two people who have any say in what transpires are Djokovic and Nadal.
Without further a do, the World No.1 and World No.2, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are ready to play. Bring it on, it’s SHOWTIME and tennis wins no matter what.
© Djokovic photo credit: Head Tennis
© Nadal photo credit: Beth Wilson