Rafael Nadal is raring to go, ready to be pushed to the limits once again in “another episode” with Novak Djokovic.
The two gladiators of modern sport have already duelled 52 times, with world No.1 Djokovic edging their series 27-25 thus far.
On Sunday night they’ll vie for the Australian Open 2019 title – a victory for Novak would be his seventh, whereas Nadal would finally add to his sole 2009 crown at Melbourne Park.
The Serbian simply stated on Friday, having dismantled Lucas Pouille in the semifinals: “He’s my biggest rival.”
Ousting Djokovic, in a repeat of their 2012 near six-hour epic final, would be the ultimate accomplishment for Nadal.
“I have probably shared all my career with the two best players of the history (Djokovic and Roger Federer), probably with me, maybe Rod Laver. But at the same time that’s a very demanding thing,” explained the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
“Have been a very special moment that we share together in the court with Novak during all our careers in the most important stages. We push each other to the limit of our tennis level. I feel lucky to have these rivals and tomorrow going to be another episode.”
Nadal is adamant he would have always maintained a relentless drive for improvement, but admits vying for major honours against such high calibre of players has demanded a constant evolution in his game.
“When you have rivals like this in front, is easier to have a clear view about the things you have to improve,” revealed Nadal, who arrived in Melbourne with an altered service motion, which has added more pop to his delivery and more crucially, more free points.
The world No.2 has stormed through the draw, dismissing three Next Gen prodigies – Stefanos Tsitsipas, Frances Tiafoe and Alex De MInaur – alongside victories over the like of Tomas Berdych all without dropping a single set.
It’s been jaw-dropping at times, but will it be enough for Nadal to capture his first win over the Serbian away from a clay court since the 2013 US Open?
“I don’t know, I think I found solutions against Novak during all my career, and he found solutions against me. Is always about moments. In his best moments, he’s so difficult to beat. In my best moments, I have been a tough opponent too,” continued Nadal, admitting he is surprised by his extraordinary level of play in a first competitive event since September.
“It is my first event since the US Open. It’s true that during the last two years when I’ve been competing, I have been winning a lot. But last year in terms of injuries, having a tough year, too,” added the 2009 champion. “I am surprised. I am happy more than surprised. But here we are, start of another year, and I really enjoying again the competition.
‘I am very happy to that have feeling again. Of course, is little bit surprising that it happen that early.”
Despite the gravitas of the task ahead on Sunday night, Nadal is relishing the fight against the top-ranked player, who clinched the Wimbledon and US Open slams during a stunning renaissance in 2018.
“I see a difficult one, as always, against a player like Novak, especially when he was playing well. Will be a tough one. I need to be 100% ready for the action,” said the Spaniard.
“At the same time it is a motivation for me to play against a player like him in this very important place against the No.1 of the world when he’s playing so well, too.
“Let’s see. For me is a motivation. I am excited about that match.”
Source: Alex Sharp