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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Australian Open final: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic set to 'push each other to the limit' as history awaits winner

Top two seeds set to battle on Sunday as the Serb aims to win a record seventh title and the Spaniard chases a second career Grand Slam

Rafael Nadal, left, and Novak Djokovic, right, will go head-to-head in the Australian Open final on Sunday. AFP
Rafael Nadal, left, and Novak Djokovic, right, will go head-to-head in the Australian Open final on Sunday. AFP

Rafael Nadal hopes his new aggressive approach will lead him to a second Australian Open title on Sunday when he takes on record-chasing top seed Novak Djokovic.

Spanish second seed Nadal is set to compete in his fifth final at Melbourne Park having won the tournament in 2009. Another victory would see him become just the third male player - and first of the Open era - to win the career Grand Slam twice.

Both men have swept all before them en route to the final, but it has been Nadal's uncharacteristic efficiency that has really caught the eye.

The foundation is a remodelled serve that he and his team honed during the final months of last season when he was sidelined through injury.

"Today I have to adapt my game to the new time and to my age," said Nadal. "I know during 15, 16, 17 years of tennis, I'm going to lose things on my way, so I need to add new things.

"That's what I tried to do during all my career, to improve the things that I can improve."

The new serve has allowed Nadal to pounce on opponents from the start of a rally and he has been ruthless. The 32-year-old Spaniard leads the tournament in terms of service games won and has not been broken since his first-round victory over James Duckworth.

Nadal and Djokovic have played each other more times than any two men in the Open era, with Sunday their 53rd tour-level meeting.

Djokovic leads 27-25 overall but on hard courts the statistics are even more in the Serbian's favour. Nadal has lost eight straight matches dating back to the US Open final in 2013, while he also lost their last meeting, another titanic scrap in the Wimbledon semi-finals last summer.

"Obviously it's the most challenging match he can have," said Nadal's coach Carlos Moya, who himself was once ranked No 1 in the world. "Mentally he has an edge when he plays any player, but not with Novak.

"I think these kind of matches come down to three or four points, like happened in Wimbledon. That day, most of these important points went Novak's side. Here, if some of those points go our side, I believe [Nadal] will have the chance to win."

Nadal's form has not gone unnoticed by Djokovic, but the world No 1 is confident his returning abilities will provide a stern test to the Spaniard's serve.

"He has improved his serve. I see he has a slightly different service motion that has worked very well," Djokovic, 31, said.

"With everything he possesses, all the qualities in his game, adding to that also a lot of free points on the serve makes him much tougher to play against.

"At the same time, it's quite different playing against me, me against him. I think it adds more pressure on his serve and my serve, as well, because we return well. We've been playing well. It's going to be interesting."

History will be on the line, with Djokovic looking to become the first man to win seven Australian Open titles and Nadal the first in the Open era, and only the third in history, to win all four grand slams at least twice.

But for the two men, the battle of wills, strokes, lungs and heart appears to matter more than anything.

"We push each other to the limit of our tennis level," said Nadal. "I found solutions against Novak during all my career, and he found solutions against me.

"It's always about moments. In his best moments, he's so difficult to beat. In my best moments, I have been a tough opponent, too."

Updated: January 26, 2019 02:11 PM

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