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The best rivalry in men’s tennis gets renewed in U.S. Open final
Question of the Day
NEW YORK — The stakes are always high, the encounters always memorable.
It will be the 37th meeting of their careers — the most times in the Open era that any two men have played.
“When you are involved in these kind of matches,” Nadal said, “you feel special.”
Nadal will be going for his 13th major title, Djokovic his seventh. Nadal is seeded second, Djokovic first. This will be their third meeting in the last four years in the final in Arthur Ashe Stadium, a stretch interrupted last year when Nadal sat out with a knee injury. Nadal won the first match, in 2010, and Djokovic won the rematch in 2011. Both were tense four-setters that played a role in the winner being ranked first at year’s end.
“It’s always the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport now,” Djokovic said of playing Nadal. “I mean, he’s the ultimate competitor out there. He’s fighting for every ball and he’s playing probably the best tennis that he ever played on hard courts.”
Fittingly for a match with these sort of stakes, the U.S. Open has built in a planned day of rest for the men, abandoning the tradition of playing the semifinals and final back-to-back over the weekend. It’s a nod to the intensely physical nature of the modern game and to the desires of the players, who complained loudly about such a quick turnaround at the tail end of the year’s final Grand Slam.
“I like to finish the tournaments on Sunday, not on Monday,” Nadal said. “But talking about fair, for sure it’s a more fair finish on Monday, having one day off between the semifinals and final.”
The day off will certainly help Djokovic, who grinded through a 4-hour, 9-minute five-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals, while Nadal dispatched Richard Gasquet in three, losing his first and only service game of the tournament.
But is it enough rest for the world No. 1, who will keep that ranking — at least for the time being — regardless of Monday’s result?
In July at Wimbledon, Djokovic played 4 hours, 43 minutes in a five-set semifinal win over Juan Martin del Potro, while Andy Murray won his semifinal in four sets. When they returned two days later for the final, Djokovic was clearly not his usual self. He rushed points, tried finishing many of them at the net, which isn’t his strong suit, and paid the price — a three-set loss to Murray.
“Hard court is my most successful surface,” Djokovic said. “This is where I can say I feel most comfortable and confident. Hopefully, I can perform better than I did in the Wimbledon final and maybe get a chance to win a trophy.”
While Djokovic has the most wins on tour this year on the hard courts (31), Nadal is undefeated — a perfect 21-0. It’s an amazing statistic, especially for a man who missed seven months with knee problems between 2012 and 2013. He won the French Open on clay, his favorite surface, then made a stunning first-round exit at Wimbledon. That loss to 135th-ranked Steve Darcis at the All England Club marks the only tournament of the 13 Nadal has entered this year in which he didn’t make the final.
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