Australian Open Men’s Final Preview:
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal headline the Australian Open men’s final after dispatching young challengers in a show of strength for the over-30 aces.
Neither top seed Djokovic nor No. 2 Nadal dropped a set in semi-final thrashings, with Djokovic sending off Frenchman Lucas Pouille and Nadal schooling Sefanos Tsitsipas.
Djokovic is bidding for a third consecutive Grand Slam title after kicking off his return as a force in the sport by winning Wimbledon and the US Open last season following an elbow procedure which ended more than a year of poor form.
The Serb, 31, holds a narrow 27-25 margin over his 32-year-old Spanish rival, with both men drawing closer to the record 20 Grand Slam titles held by Roger Federer, winner of the last two Melbourne editions.
The rivalry is the most frequent in modern tennis, with Djokovic winning their only 2018 meeting, a Wimbledon semi-final which ended 10-8 in the fifth set.
“There’s so much at stake, it’s hard to pick one thing,” Djokovic said as he prepared the bid for a record seventh Melbourne trophy.
“Obviously making history of the sport that I love is a huge motivation – but at the same time Nadal is across the net.
“We’re playing the final of a Grand Slam, if you don’t get motivated by all these things, then something is wrong.”
Djokovic credited at least part of his local success to the tennis calendar: “It’s the beginning of the season, everyone is fresh and ready to jump-start their year.
“There’s a great tennis buzz and fever going around in the month of January throughout the whole Australia. Obviously the court, the balls, everything is quite suitable to my style of the game.
“All these things combined probably allow me to excel here.”
Nadal is preparing for another huge battle when he takes on his most frequent opponent in Nadal.
“The intensity that he brings on the court is immense. It makes you alert from the very first point. The quality of the tennis is 100 per cent.
“He makes you play that kind of tennis. He doesn’t allow you to kind of ease your way into the match. You have to be fit, ready to battle, ready to run for hours.
” It definitely helps if you have not spent too much time prior to the finals on the court. I think we both have not spent too much time, so we both are going to be physically fine.”
Nadal is performing at top level after not playing an official match since the US Open four months ago.
But the gap to cure injury and undergo a minor ankle operation seems to have given the Spaniard with 17 Grand Slam titles some fresh momentum.
“Is not easy to be back after four months, five months, and play the way I am playing. Of course, I didn’t expect that at all,” he said.
“When you are older, you lose less tennis (skills) when you are playing less, you don’t need that many matches to play well.”