By Mario Sarmento
They’ve defeated all the contenders and pretenders, and now No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Novak Djokovic are the last men standing in the men’s draw in the 2014 Sony Open Tennis tournament.
The final is set for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. on Stadium Court, and fittingly, it is the top two players in the world who will contest it.
Each man has been here before.
Djokovic is a three-time Sony Open champion and a four-time finalist, and he’s looking to win the title for the third time in four years. He again faces Nadal, a three-time finalist and the top player in the world today.
The two also met in the Key Biscayne final three years ago, with Djokovic winning a classic, 4-6, 6-3 7-6 (4), but Nadal has won 14 of the last 18 meetings between the two and holds a 22-17 lifetime edge over the Serbian.
“The only chance to win against Novak is play to the limit, play my best, and hope that he’s not going to have his best day,” Nadal said Friday. “I will see. I know I will have to be solid with my serve. I need to play aggressive, no doubt about that.” Nadal reached this point by beating Lleyton Hewitt, Denis Istomin, No. 14 Fabio Fognini and No. 12 Milos Raonic, dropping only one set in the process.
Djokovic has had a more leisurely road to the final, playing only three matches while two opponents withdrew, though he passed his biggest test with a 7-5, 6-3 win over defending champion and sixth seed Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.“I’m just trying to keep up whatever I’ve been doing the last 10 days,” Djokovic said. “I have won Indian Wells, which gave me a lot of confidence, played a lot of matches, put in a lot of hours on the practice court, and hopefully it will pay off.”
Djokovic does lead Nadal 13-7 in matches played on the hardcourt, which the Spaniard recognizes is an advantage. “We are playing on a court that today is probably his favorite,” Nadal said. “He arrives at the final with good confidence after winning in Indian Wells.”
Of course, these are two of the most accomplished players in the sport. Nadal’s 13 Grand Slam titles are second among active players only to Roger Federer on the ATP, and he has become a fearsome hardcourt player in recent years, winning five hardcourt titles in the last two years alone, including the 2013 U.S. Open and at Qatar this year. Djokovic has won six Grand Slam titles, and five of them have been on hardcourts (four Australian Open titles and one U.S. Open). Nadal has already won two titles this year; Djokovic got his first at the last tournament at Indian Wells.
Both players are peaking at the right time, which is a good thing for fans at Key Biscayne who are anticipating a good show.