Novak Djokovic has a chance to catch up Rafael Nadal in the ATP rankings if he can win tomorrow’s Sony Open final. The world no. 2 was dethroned from his 48 week streak at the top rank of the ATP rankings at the end of last season by Nadal who dominated the season winning two slams and five ATP 1000 titles.
Nadal currently sits at number one with 13130 points. Djokovic is behind him with 10900. Both men will gain points win or lose as Nadal did not compete in Miami last season and Djokovic went out in the fourth round, meaning he is only defending 90 points. Both men have already won 600 points win or lose tomorrow and the winner will take 1000 points. For Djokovic that extra 320 points could mean a lot if the no. 1 ranking is as tightly contested at the end of 2014 as it was last season.
This meeting will be the 39th between the two rivals, with Nadal leading 22-17. Two of those meetings have come in Miami and Djokovic has won both of them. The first was in 2007 and the second in 2011, years Djokovic won the event. 2011 was especially significant as Nadal was number 1 and Djokovic was number 2 and on his way to his best ever season.
This meeting could be the start of a similar reversal of fortune. Nadal is again ranked no.1, but he has only won 1 tournament since the US Open, an ATP 500 event in Rio. Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 5 tournaments since then. That run has included an ATP 500 event in Beijing, the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, and three consecutive ATP 1000 events in Shanghai, Paris, and most recently in Indian Wells. That is a lot of points, and another ATP 1000 titles would keep them racking up.
That 5 tournament run also included two wins over Nadal in Championship matches, in Beijing and at the World Tour Finals. Both wins were in straights, on low bouncing, medium-fast indoor courts. Courts not too dissimilar to Miami’s; conditions Djokovic thrives on. Meanwhile, Nadal benefits more from higher bouncing courts he can work his spin on, and struggles with Djokovic’s flatter ground-strokes, especially on the backhand down the line to his backhand side. Djokovic will be sure to employ that same tactic in this Miami final, peppering the Nadal forehand cross-court and then going down the line.
What will be different though in Miami to Beijing and London, will be the wind and the heat. Djokovic however is not afraid of either. He has won the Australian Open four times, and has won in Miami three times. Meanwhile, Nadal has never won in Miami, though he has been to the final on three occasions, and while he has one Australian Open title, he also has two runner ups. One of those was to Djokovic, a five set epic, in 2012.
The other Australian Open final loss was to Wawrinka this year, a match in which Nadal picked up a back injury. That injury has certainly had an impact on his season. Though he won the ATP 500 event in Rio, he lost early in Indian Wells, a tournament he has won three times. And while he has played well this Sony Open, dropping only nine games in his first three matches, he was not so impressive squeezing past Raonic in 3.
Djokovic on the other hand breezed past Murray in the last round and has not dropped a set the entire event. He has had two walkovers though, in the fourth round, and then in the semis, where Nadal had one, too. What effect those semi-final walkovers will have will be interesting to see. Nadal has had two days off, Djokovic three, but Djokovic played six matches in Indian Wells two weeks back, while Nadal only played two. That match fitness may tell the difference if there match goes down to the wire as it did in their 2011 Miami battle.
The psychological advantage of that win will come into play, too. As will the recent big wins for Djokovic in Beijing and London. The Nadal-Djokovic rivalry is as much mental as physical. After Nadal’s French Open win last year, a match Djokovic was in a position to win, the Spaniard went on to beat the Serb in a third set tiebreaker in Montreal and then in four sets at the US Open. Both those matches, considering Djokovic’s superior hard court game, were won by Nadal in the mind as much as on his racket. But with Djokovic’s recent dominance over Nadal, the mental advantage is once more on his side of the court, as it was in his seven finals winning streak over Nadal from 2011-2012.
With the courts ideal for Djokovic, his stats for the year being better than Nadal in nearly every department, and with his recent three set win over Federer in Indian Wells, Djokovic has a perfect opportunity tomorrow to catch Nadal up in the ATP rankings. Nadal has a huge clay court season and North American Summer season to defend and a confidence boosting third consecutive win for Djokovic over the Spaniard could set the tone for another run at no. 1 in the ATP rankings for the Serb.
Commentary by Christian Deverille