Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal’s rivalry will enter a new chapter this U.S Open Series as the world No’s 1 and 2 get ready to compete for ATP 1000 titles, the season’s final slam, the U.S Open, and the No.1 spot on the ATP Rankings. Right now Djokovic sits on top of the ATP Rankings with 13130 points while Nadal is just behind in second place with 12670 points.
It was only a fortnight ago that Djokovic resumed his place at the top of the rankings after taking the Wimbledon title. Before then, Nadal had held the No.1 spot for 39 weeks since October 7th 2013 when he ended Djokovic’s 48 week spell at the top. It is not the first time Djokovic has knocked Nadal off the top spot. The first time was July 4th 2011 when Novak Djokovic won his first Wimbledon title, beating Nadal in the final and ending his 56 week run. Djokovic went on to lead the tour for 53 weeks before Federer took over for 17 weeks. The Serb, though, got back into prime position for 48 weeks before Nadal took over at the end of last year.
It was largely down to Nadal’s 2013 US Open Series run that he was able to get back the No.1 ranking in 2013 as his three titles earned him a grand total of 4000 points. The Spaniard won the ATP 1000 titles in Montreal and Cincinnati, winning the Series in the process, before taking the US Open title. Nadal beat Djokovic twice in that run, in the Montreal semi-finals and in the US Open final. Both matches were competitive, with Nadal edging the Montreal contest in a third set tie-breaker and the Flushing Meadows battle in four sets.
This year, Nadal will have quite the task to repeat last year’s success and defend all those 4000 points. The Spaniard has been low on confidence for most of the season, suffering some surprising defeats, particularly on clay, a surface he usually dominates. This year he only managed to win one ATP 1000 title on the dirt in Madrid. And, though, he did win a record ninth French Open, he was only convincing in his last couple of rounds.
The North American Swing is also, traditionally, not Nadal’s strongest part of the season, with his US Open winning efforts 2010 and 2013 being the exception rather than the rule and with both titles coming off very strong first halves of the season. He will not be able to draw on such confidence this Summer after such a patchy 2014.
Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, will be riding high after his recent epic five set Wimbledon win over Roger Federer. It was his first slam since the Australian Open 2013 and, in his own words, his biggest win. It will have certainly helped heal the wounds of a frustratingly damp performance in the French Open final which he lost in four sets to Nadal after beating him five consecutive times, destroying him in the last two sets of their Italian Open title match.
That win, however, was only Djokovic’s fourth over Nadal on clay- he trails him 4-14 on the surface- and beating Nadal in five sets at Roland Garros is a feat only one man, Robin Soderling, has managed. On hard courts, it is a different story. Djokovic leads the rivalry 13-6, but it is Nadal who has the upper hand in their U.S Open battles, having won two of the three finals they have contested.
Right now, Djokovic has the momentum, and the least points to defend with 1,740 making him the favorite to grab the U.S Open series, the U.S Open title and keep his hold on the ATP No.1 ranking. However, in a rivalry which has seen the momentum swing back and forth since they played their first match back in 2006 at Roland Garros until their last one, their 42nd, at the same venue, the tide could turn any time soon. Whatever happens, it is something tennis fans will not want to miss as the most epic rivalry on the ATP Tour turns a page and enters yet another fascinating chapter.
Tennis Shots is the regular Tennis column for Guardian Liberty Voice.
Follow the U.S Open Series with Guardian Liberty Voice.
Commentary by Christian Deverille