AHEAD of the tournament I said the Australian Open is rarely an event that produces a decent-priced outright winner these days and for the 13th year in the last 14 we’re set to crown one of the ‘big three’ as our men’s champion.
It’ll either be a seventh Aussie Open crown for Novak Djokovic (who’s unbeaten in Australian Open finals) or a second for Rafael Nadal (who’s 1-3 in Australian Open finals).
They start from around 08:30 UK time on Sunday (19:30 local time) when it’ll be around 20C, but pretty humid (between 60 and 70% humidity).
Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal
So, it’s clash number 53 of this career series, in which Djokovic leads 27-25 (14-5 on outdoor hard) and for me this one is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated for some time.
It’s their first meeting at a hard court major since the 2013 US Open final (won by Nadal) and based on the level each man showed in their respective semi finals it’s one not to be missed – and I don’t say that very often.
We’ve got Nadal coming into this final having found an extra level to his game, built around a much more aggressive mindset on serve and going for much more on his groundies earlier in rallies than we’re used to seeing from him.
Nadal brushed Stefanos Tsitsipas aside with ease in their semi final before Novak Djokovic was even more dismissive of a poor Lucas Pouille in the second of the men’s semis.
In fairness they were both good match-ups for our two finalists, but it’s the way that Nadal has gone about his business this week, taking the attack to the opposition, that reminds me a bit of that 2013 US Open run.
Maybe he feels that after all his injuries he hasn’t got too many more majors in him, so he’s been forced to adopt a style of play that keeps the points shorter, or perhaps it’s a style that he’s taken thinking that it’s the way to beat the Federers and Djokovics of this world.
Whatever it is it’s worked, with Nadal holding serve 97.5% of the time this week and breaking 39.2% of the time for a combined hold/break total of 136.7, which is off the charts.
Djokovic, while seemingly only bursting into life in that impressive win over Pouille, has also produced some stellar numbers this fortnight: holding 90.3% of the time and breaking 44.8% of the time for an equally impressive total of 135.1.
Although those stats are only from six matches they’re still amazing and as if to try and outshine Nadal’s super semi final show there was Djokovic bringing it all to the court against Pouille, dropping only eight points on serve all match.
Given the way that this pair have evolved and Nadal in particular changing his style of play this tournament their previous head-to-heads aren’t that relevant and my main concern with both players on Sunday is fitness.
Nadal hasn’t gone past three sets and two hours and 22 minutes all fortnight and having arrived at this tournament with no competitive matches under his belt since last September due to injuries he hasn’t been tested physically yet.
And Djokovic looked to be wilting pretty badly (although we have seen this before from the Serb) against Daniil Medvedev and he said of that: “I didn't feel so great, you know, in the last 20 minutes of the match or so. It was just, you know, a little bit of fatigue, a little bit of back.”
So, question marks over the fitness of both, perhaps, and it will be interesting to see whether against a great returner Nadal can keep up his fine serving, as I’m sure he won’t get as many easy forehand putaways as he’s been enjoying all week.
Pouille’s fine run of serving came to an abrupt halt when faced with Djokovic on the other side of the net, but a great champion like Nadal is surely unlikely to mentally collapse like Pouille did.
Another question is whether Nadal will be able to keep the points as short as he has against other opponents this tournament, but as well as the serve the Spaniard has also been hitting a fair few clean winners on the backhand side and his volleying has been excellent as well (something often overlooked).
In short, both guys are in supreme form (not sure about fitness) and I’m expecting no change to the sequence of them playing either four or five set matches at hard court majors.
Their last clash (at Wimbledon) went to 10-8 in the fifth over two days and while that one wasn’t a classic by any means this might well be and it’s tough to call a winner with any real confidence.
The favourite has won in 15 of the last 16 matches between this pair, but I much prefer the over sets in this one, with five being a real possibility – and that’s a 2.90 chance.
Interestingly, Nadal with his new service motion, has hit more aces per game this tournament than Djokovic (0.49 to 0.45) and a price of 3.25 is not bad based on those numbers.
It’s pretty rare that there’ll be much in the way of value in a high profile match like this, so I’m just going to take a small chance on the five setter here.
- 0.5 points win over 4.5 sets (2.90, Unibet)