September 13, 2010

Over the Radar?

At the start of this year's U.S. Open tournament I'd asked you guys which potential men's final was most likely to be contested his weekend. And unanimously you -- we -- gave the possibility of Rafael Nadal meeting Novak Djokovic the least credence.

Oh, how wrong we were.

This afternoon the two elite men who'd been flying the furthest under the radar will each be going for their first trophy in Flushing Meadows, and after yesterday's play was delayed by rain giving Djokovic another twenty-four hours to rest after his brutal semifinal, I have to say either could do it.

Nadal is probably still the favorite. The #1 seed in New York, he has not dropped a set in six matches here and is infinitely -- okay, eight times -- more experienced at winning Majors. He has the crowd support, the motivation of winning a career Grand Slam, the possibility of separating himself even farther from the rest of the pack. And with Roger Federer out of the way, his chances have never looked better.

But Nole has an advantage too -- he's won the pair's last four three* meetings, and though he still trails their head-to-head, he has a solid 7-3 record over the Spaniard on hard courts. Thirteen of his seventeen titles have come on the surface -- that's better than Nadal's nine. He's also been battled-tested during the fortnight, nearly losing the first round to Viktor Troicki and saving two match points Saturday against the great Roger Federer. Knowing that he can survive opponents like that, not to mention Mardy Fish and Gael Monfils, has to give the guy confidence.

Add to that the fact that it's been nearly three years since Djokovic won his only Major at the 2008 Australian Open where, you might remember, he beat the Swiss giant in those semis too. And with every big title but one since then -- since 2005, really -- going to either Rafa or Roger, he will surely want to do his part to break up the flow. It you want to talk about motivation, he's got loads of it.

Novak has only won a single trophy this year -- in Dubai back in February -- his smallest count since he became a force on Tour in 2006. Guys on the top aren't satisfied with numbers like that, and you have to believe he's going to do whatever he can to immediately double that stat.

What better way to remind us all that he's not only back on the screen, but that he never left?

* Looks like I was fooled! The ATP website mistakenly updated the head-to-head record early today crediting Djokovic with the win before the match even started. It's been rectified, but I need to be more careful!

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