It’s Rafa versus Djokovic

2012-01-28 16:44

Barbs fly from both camps in the lead-up to Australian Open final

All the top three’s charitable talk of new challengers ready to end their Grand Slam hegemony at the Australian Open has come to nothing, and the top two seeds, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, will contest their third consecutive major final today.

The rivalry between Nadal and Serb Djokovic appears set to challenge that of the Spaniard’s long double act with former world number one Roger Federer.

But where Nadal and Federer’s match-ups inspired mutual admiration, the Spaniard’s relationship with Djokovic, the man who poached his top ranking last year, is far more complex and the barbs have been flying from both camps in the lead-up.

Defending champion Djokovic, dragged into a near five-hour slog with fourth seed Andy Murray on Friday, has a day’s less rest to recover than Nadal. He was happy to talk of their head-to-head record.

“I know I maybe have a mental edge because I’ve won six finals the five or six times we played in 2011 and I’ve had lots of success against him,” said Djokovic (24). He holds a losing 16-13 record to Nadal, but has beaten him the last six times they have played.

The losses, all in finals, included last year’s Wimbledon and US Open crowns.

While pushed, Nadal finished his four-set semifinal against third seed Federer on Thursday full of running and brimful of confidence, having inflicted an eighth defeat on the Swiss in their record-equalling 10th Grand Slam encounter.

Nadal also returned serve at the suggestion that his extra day’s rest was unfair on Djokovic, given the Spaniard had recovered from a similar position to upset Roger Federer for the 2009 title.

Then, Nadal had played a five-hour, 14-minute semifinal over compatriot Fernando Verdasco, the longest match on record at Melbourne Park, before beating Federer in a five-set classic for his first title on the blue hard court of Rod Laver Arena.

“I had only one day and Federer had two, no?” he said. “I was recovered for the final, so I think you can say it’s unfair, yes, but not crazy unfair.

“Having one day off, I believe you are not in big trouble.”

While fitness may ultimately decide who wins the tournament, a lack of it is unlikely to concern either Nadal or four-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic, bidding for his third title at Melbourne Park.

Two of the fittest players on the tour, neither Djokovic nor Nadal will sweat about the possibility of a five-set marathon.

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