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Djokovic, Nadal add new chapter in a long rivalry


Serbia’s Novak Djokovic . / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL

The title match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the just-concluded Australian Open was their 53rd encounter. Nadal had defeated Djokovic in four previous grand slam finals while Djokovic retaliated in three.

In winning the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in Melbourne, Djokovic tied the numbers and extended the career match up to 27 to 25. They have denied each other many other titles since their first encounter 1n 2006.

In every grand slam event, there are expectations of a displacement of the players, who have dominated the top for two decades. In Melbourne this year, the highest ranked in the next age group, Milos Raonic defeated Alexander Zverev in the fourth round during which the German star smashed his racket in a rage. His Austrian counterpart Dominic Thiem retired in the second round match against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin. The great Australian promise, Alex de Minaur fell 6/1, 6/2, 6/4 in the third round to a fresh and ruthless Nadal. The hope of a change of guards was the 20-year-old Greek, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who dispatched Roger Federer (6/7(11), 7/6(3), 7/5, 7/6(5) in the fourth round, and Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarters. However, he could not hold his own in the semifinals against Nadal.

The title battle came down to the first and second seeds. Roger Federer (37), Andy Murray (31 years), Djokovic (31) and Nadal (32) constituted the “big four of their generation. The quartet had cleared most grand slam titles in the last decade.

In the six matches played to the reach the finals, Djokovic dropped only one set, in a tiebreaker, to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.

In the same way, Nadal had rolled over six opponents and none of them was in the top 10. Although this could be an advantage, it has its flip side.

In the final match, Nadal met a stiff opposition for the very first time in the fortnight. After the one-sided score, the Spaniard explained that he had played an offensive game for six rounds. In the final, however, he faced a Djokovic, who was highly aggressive while he had not honed the defensive game to counter it.

“The real thing is he (Djokovic) played so well. He did a lot of unbelievable things. He hit deep. His return was fantastic. He was super quick. I felt that my good shots came back to place me in a defensive position. He was better than me tonight. When the opponent did almost everything better than you, you can’t complain much but say “Congrats, well done.”

Djokovic came to Melbourne on top in the rankings with 8955 points, while Nadal trailed with 7320. By reaching the final, Djokovic was sure to retain the top rankings, even if Nadal won and added the 2000 grand slam title points. The Serb is now far ahead of the pack with 10955, while Nadal has 8,320.

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