Djokovic, Nadal building superb Grand Slam rivalry
After all of those Grand Slam finals between Roger Federer and
Rafael Nadal, a record eight in all, there’s a new tantalizing
This one, between Nadal and Novak Djokovic, offers the added
benefit of being more competitive.
And given the participants’ ages, it should last a while.
Nadal and Djokovic played each other to decide the titles at
each of the past four Grand Slam tournaments, most recently the
French Open, where Nadal won a two-day, rain-interrupted final 6-4,
6-3, 2-6, 7-5.
No one should be surprised if they make that five in a row in
less than a month’s time at Wimbledon.
Which would be remarkable, considering that before these two
came along, no pair of men had met in more than two consecutive
major finals since the start of the Open era in 1968. Not Borg and
McEnroe. Not Sampras and Agassi. Not even Federer and Nadal.
”We are very young, and we played over 30 times against each
other,” said Djokovic, who trails 19-14 overall in their series,
”and hopefully we can have many more battles in the next
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic turned 25 last month; No. 2 Nadal is
barely a week past his 26th birthday.
They’ve already accumulated more head-to-head meetings than
Nadal and the 30-year-old Federer (Nadal leads 18-10), and are
gaining in the Grand Slam final department (Nadal leads Federer
6-2; Djokovic leads Nadal 3-2).
If they do meet again at Wimbledon next month or the U.S. Open
in September, there will be those who will wonder whether Nadal’s
current three-match winning streak against Djokovic – at Monte
Carlo, Rome and Paris, all on red clay – says much about who has
the upper hand in general at the moment.
It might just reflect superiority on one particular surface.
”I don’t think (Nadal) necessarily still has the answers. I
think he fights through this match, and it’s clay, and he’s
confident, and he wins the key points there toward the end,”
seven-time major champion Mats Wilander said after presenting Nadal
with the trophy at Roland Garros on Monday.
Right now, there’s such a tiny sliver separating Djokovic and
They’re probably the sport’s two best returners of serve, two
best movers and two best retrievers of opponents’ shots. They’re
also capable of switching from defense to offense in a blink as
well or better than anyone. In the French Open final, they played
more than 60 points that lasted 10 strokes or more – lengthy,
complicated exchanges that resulted not from conservative,
keep-the-ball-in-play tennis, but rather an extraordinary ability
to force the other to come up with the goods over and over – and
each won more than 30.
Wilander pointed to the puzzle of the top three men in the
sport, Djokovic, Nadal and the No. 3-ranked Federer, a trio that
has combined to win 28 of the past 29 Grand Slam titles dating to
2005 (the exception: Juan Martin del Potro beat Federer in the 2009
U.S. Open final).
Nadal always seems to have the edge over Federer. Until
recently, Federer had the edge over Djokovic, who beat the Swiss
star in the U.S. Open semifinals in September and the French Open
semifinals last week. And for a stretch of seven consecutive wins
that began in 2011 and was capped by the 2012 Australian Open final
– a 5-hour, 53-minute epic – Djokovic had the edge over Nadal.
”If you’re going to build a player that’s going to trouble
Roger Federer on every surface, you build Nadal. And if you’re
going to build a player that’s going to trouble Nadal, you build
Robin Soderling with the movement of Novak Djokovic. And suddenly,
Novak Djokovic at No. 1 is hitting the ball like Soderling, but he
moves like Novak,” Wilander said. ”So it’s amazing how they all
fit each other really badly. The one big thing is Novak has now
maybe turned the corner on Federer completely after here. … He’s
the one to beat (at Wimbledon) – Novak is still the one to beat,
Djokovic had won 27 consecutive Grand Slam matches until his
setback against Nadal in Paris, falling one win short of becoming
the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four straight major
titles. Nadal, beaten by Djokovic in London, New York and
Melbourne, avoided becoming the first man to lose four straight
”For us, it was very important to win here against Djokovic,
because a fourth Grand Slam loss would have been ugly,” said Toni
Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach.
Now they start over at Wimbledon, where play begins June 25.
Before opening the defense of his first title at the All England
Club, Djokovic will rest – he’s taking this week off.
Nadal isn’t wasting any time getting ready to move from clay to
grass courts, flying Tuesday to Germany, where he’s entered in a
tournament on the green turf. His schedule provides no downtime:
travel Tuesday morning, practice on grass Tuesday afternoon,
doubles match Wednesday, singles match Thursday.
”That’s the calendar,” he said. ”The calendar says we only
have this period of time on clay, and I don’t have more chances to
play on clay.”
Don’t feel too sorry for him. Sure, Nadal is the undisputed King
of Clay, owner of a record seven French Open titles. But he also
already owns two Wimbledon championships, in addition to three
runner-up finishes there – against Federer in 2006 and 2007, and
against Djokovic last year.
Nadal already has 11 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic five. Put those
numbers together, and you get Federer’s 16, the record.
The question isn’t whether Nadal and Djokovic will continue to
add to their totals.
The question is how many more times they will do it at the
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. He can
be reached at hfendrich(at)ap.org or