Tennis fans have got want they wanted. A season which saw Rafael Nadal swing back onto his tennis throne has also provided the dream finale.
For eight days giant posters of Nadal and Djokovic crossing rackets have looked down upon thousands of visitors to London’s O2. On Monday, the true significance of those posters is being felt.
It is as many predicted – Spain v Serbia, world number one v world number two.
But on Monday evening the tennis titans play for more than a trophy. Or any financial reward. As the last tournament of the season, bragging rights are at stake and also a positive end to the year.
The statistics confirm that this one of tennis’ ultimate rivalries. Nadal and Djokovic are meeting for the 38th time, a record between any two players in the modern era.
They might be used to sharing the court but the final will stir the blood of each in different ways.
On a winning run since the U.S. Open, Djokovic is looking to extend his 21-match unbeaten record and seek recompense for losing his world number one ranking to the Spaniard. Meanwhile Nadal is desperate to become master of the hard court.
In their 38 clashes, Nadal looks to be the man to beat with 22 wins to Djokovic’s 16. But that is until you turn your eye to their meetings on the hard stuff.
In 19 duels, Djokovic has won 12, Nadal only seven. Their battle on indoor courts is tied at two wins apiece.
Because of the surface, defending champion Djokovic is the slight favourite but only a fool would rule out the world number one. Especially considering his form throughout this competition.
While the thought of a long, sweaty battle is a delight to the fans, it might leave the players cold.
The stunning O2 – with its music, big crowds and atmospheric lighting – is the perfect stage to put on an evening extravaganza. It’s just a shame the leading acts have performed one too many matinee.
I would say that if he wins today we will again have the debate of whether he is the best in history with Rod Laver and Federer...He can close the circle and say, 'look, I have won everything'.
The world’s top eight came into these finals mentally and physically drained. Brutal scheduling saw the ATP World Tours start a day after the Paris Masters with winner Djokovic making a mad dash across the channel.
“Both are really tired and I think it will be a mental battle. The strongest mentally will win – the person who has the ambition to win it,” Marta Mateo, journalist at Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper told Al Jazeera.
“Djokovic is the favourite but Nadal has more of a chance to win then any finalist before. I think it is 50/50. The first set will decide it as there is no space for error in a three-set game.”
Tired they may be but ‘playing too much tennis’ will not be an acceptable excuse for either Nadal or Djokovic.
Neither will Nadal’s continuing complaint about the finals being held on a hard, indoor court.
The Spaniard is right – the finals do not accurately reflect the various surfaces competed on throughout the year. But Nadal knows the world number one is expected to win. On all surfaces. All the time.
If he can win his first ATP World Tour finals title – much praise awaits.
“I would say that if he wins today we will again have the debate of whether he is the best in history with Rod Laver and Federer,” says Mateo.
“He has won almost everything apart from two masters 1000 and this tournament. He has won everything else, not even Federer did it. He can close the circle and say, ‘look I have won everything’.
“In Spain he is already the most successful sportsman but he will be an even bigger idol if he wins today.”
With Djokovic and Roger Federer desperate to prove their best is not behind them, and Andy Murray returning from back surgery, there will be plenty of competition in 2014.
But right now it is the battle between number one and number two that the tennis world is waiting for.
And despite the fatigue, there is no doubt Nadal and Djokovic will be looking to put on a show.
Source: Al Jazeera