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Andy Schooler previews Sunday’s Australian Open men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
The last time Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal contested the Australian Open final in 2012 they played for five hours and 53 minutes and the match went down as one of the best in tennis history.
Something similar could unfold on Sunday, although with both men into their 30s, it would seem less likely.
The market makes Djokovic a slight favourite and I tend to agree.
Coming in with a more aggressive approach, Nadal has arguably looked the better player in Melbourne over the past fortnight and he is yet to lose a set, but Djokovic seemed to respond in the semi-finals with his best performance of the tournament as he ruthlessly dismissed my 100/1 ante-post pick from before Christmas, Lucas Pouille.
Boris Becker used to call Centre Court his second home; for Djokovic that place is Rod Laver Arena and he must walk out onto it feeling close to invincible.
He’s played in six finals here and won them all. On the other side, Nadal is just 1-3 in finals on this court.
But perhaps the most telling statistic ahead of this match comes from the head-to-head record.
It’s not simply the fact that Djokovic leads 18-7 in their hardcourt encounters (although that is significant) but rather that the Serb has won the last 14 sets they’ve played on the surface – a run stretching back to Nadal’s golden year of 2013.
Yes, some of those matches have come during Nadal dips and a period when Djokovic dominated the game, but the six-time champion is now back at something close to his best level and, put simply, I believe that Djokovic’s best on a hardcourt is better than Nadal’s best.
The serve/return stats also back this up.
Djokovic has held serve 84.6% of the time against Nadal across their career on hardcourts, breaking the Spaniard in 28.2% of games. The figures show Nadal is almost half as likely to break serve (as you can work out, he does so 15.4% of the time).
During that run over the past five and a half years, Djokovic’s break figure rises to 36.1% with Nadal at a worrying 3.1%.
It must be pointed out Nadal has clearly made a tactical change coming into this event with his serve speed pushed higher and it has certainly worked so far. But doing it against a player who has given him so much trouble in the past is another matter.
That extra pace won’t bother a player who is arguably the best returner of all time and as long as he gets a read on the service motion early on, Djokovic should be able to get Nadal thinking a lot.
All things considered, 4/5 about Djokovic winning a record seventh title looks the way to go.
For the record, a straight-sets win for Djokovic can be backed at 3/1.
As far as other bets are concerned, the 2/1 about no tie-break looks worth considering.
Thirty-seven of the pair’s previous 52 meetings have failed to see a breaker, while on a hardcourt it’s 19 of 25.
Of course, you have to take into account that most of those matches have been played in the best-of-three format but looking at their best-of-five matches, 10 of 15 have not featured a tie-break.
Another thing to consider with this market these days is that there are potentially five chances for a breaker with the final set now going to one if they get to 6-6.
However, this doesn’t put me off. The level of returning is set to be high and with Djokovic having broken Nadal with such regularity, this look worth a try.
Djokovic to win – 4/5
No tie-break in the match – 2/1