On Sunday evening, defending Australian Open champion and World Number 1 Novak Djokovic, faces World Number 2 and ten time major winner, Rafael Nadal, in the first Grand Slam final of 2012. This is the first time in the Open era that the finalists meet each for the third successive Grand Slam final.
On Thursday night, another chapter was written in one of sport’s greatest rivalries as Nadal beat Roger Federer in four sets. Federer started brightly marching into a 3-0 lead before Nadal broke back taking the game into a tie break which Federer won. Then it was all about Rafa and his superhuman running forehand. Nadal now has a favourable 8-2 win-loss record against Federer in Grand Slam tournaments with Thursday night being his fifth straight win against him in the majors. This slightly tarnishes claims that Federer is the best player to have ever played the game. However after losing out in his quest for his 17th major, Federer was upbeat after the match, “I haven’t lost in five months so it’s not that bad. Dont feel too sorry for me.”
Djokovic versus Murray on Friday night was a game that had everything. Djokovic looked exhausted after taking the opening set and found himself 2-1 down following a relentless and impressive assault from the Scotsman. Djokovic then inexplicably found energy after covering his head with a towel during the interval where he chomped on a few secret ingredients.
Less than half an hour later, he levelled the match with a 6-1 demolition in the fourth set and swiftly moved 5-2 up in the decider. Murray, with Lendl in his corner, fought back to 5-5 and even had break points against Djokovic’s serve which would have put him 6-5 up. The Serb though demonstrated why he’s number one, by holding serve and then breaking Murray to win 7-5. Heartbreak for Murray. He has improved in the last 12 months and with the appointment of Lendl, Murray can only go from strength to strength. However, he has also created some unwanted history as being the first player to be eliminated in four consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals in the Open era.
Then we were left with two. Djokovic versus Nadal. Although Nadal holds a better head to head record against Djokovic (16-13), he trails Djokovic 10-5 on a hard court surface. Furthermore, Djokovic beat Nadal six times last season including two victories in the majors (Wimbledon and US Open). Should Djokovic win tonight he will be one major away from completing the prestigious Grand Slam (holding all four majors at one time), something which the likes of Federer, Nadal and Pete Sampras have never done. Nadal knows that he has his work cut out for him. Before the tournament had even started, he was a big doubt due to a knee injury, but the knee has obviously held out and he has surpassed his expectations.
Predictably both players have played down their chances of winning, “I got here by beating the sixth best player [Tomas Berdych] and the number three [Roger Federer]. So it’s a fantastic way to start the season but now is another big, big test. I don’t know if I am ready to win the match but I am going to fight for it,” said Rafa.
Djokovic told reporters, “It was an incredible effort from Rafa to come back and he played some incredible passing shots. That’s why he’s a champion and one of the best players to ever play this game. He never gives up, has a great fighting spirit and very few weaknesses. He’s eager and motivated to win the title, like I am. It’s unpredictable as to what’s going to happen.”
The bookies agree with Djokovic as he is priced at $1.70 and Nadal is $2.40. It’s a game that is too close to call. Make sure you are near a TV at 7.30pm AET, 8.30am GMT. The 2012 Australian Open has not disappointed so far and tonight’s matchup is the pinnacle of the sport.
Congratulations to 22 year-old Belarusian Victoria Azarenka who won ‘the battle of the screamers’ to win her first major last night. Azarenka beat Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 in her first Grand Slam final on Saturday night becoming the new World Number 1 in the process. If Djokovic dominated the men’s circuit last year, the women’s game is the opposite with five different players winning the last five Grand Slam tournaments.