Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Debate: Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal - who will win the Australian Open final?

The top two seeds bid for their own slices of history when they compete in the final of the season's first grand slam on Sunday

Rafael Nadal, left, and Novak Djokovic meet in the Australian Open final on Sunday at 12.30pm UAE time. AFP
Rafael Nadal, left, and Novak Djokovic meet in the Australian Open final on Sunday at 12.30pm UAE time. AFP

The Australian Open men's final takes place on Sunday and will see Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal go head-to-head in pursuit of history.

The action at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne begins at 12.30pm UAE time and it promises to be an epic denouement to the first grand slam of 2019, with Naomi Osaka having won the women's title on Saturday.

Djokovic, the world No 1, is going for a record seventh Australian Open crown, while Nadal is looking for his second, 10 years after his lone previous success in 2009, which will make the Spaniard the first player of the Open era to win two career Grand Slams.

Ahead of the match, Graham Caygill and Jon Turner make their respective cases for why Djokovic and Nadal will be the victor on Sunday afternoon.

Why Djokovic will win

Novak Djokovic has largely not been as dominant as Rafael Nadal in his route to the final.

There have been glimpses of the Serbian being at his best. The way he tore apart Lucas Pouille in Friday's semi-final was like seeing the 31 year old at his peak around 2015-16.

No mercy, capitalising on every error from Pouille, and not giving him an inch in return.

Djokovic's transformation since July last year has been stunning. His comeback from elbow surgery had been average until then, but winning Wimbledon was the catalyst for his charge back to being world No 1.

He defeated Nadal in the semi-finals at SW19 and that, to this writer at least, remains his most important success of the past 12 months.

Nadal arguably played the better tennis but Djokovic demonstrated just why he is a great of the game. He hung on with resilience when his opponent was in the ascendancy, showing his tremendous on-court defence, and then took every chance that came his way.

Nadal had the chances, and really should have won the match, but it was Djokovic who triumphed and went on to defeat Kevin Anderson in the final.

Djokovic has never lost an Australian Open final and that will not change here. He is the perfect counter-puncher and will take the best of Nadal, survive it, and prevail for a seventh Melbourne title and a 15th major crown.

Graham Caygill

Why Nadal will win

The most enthralling and enduring rivalry of the modern era will write its next chapter on Sunday when Nadal and Djokovic battle for a record-extending 53rd time. As if any more evidence was needed, top seed Djokovic and second seed Nadal have once again proved at Melbourne Park to be light years ahead of their nearest challengers.

There were doubts surrounding Nadal's fitness heading into the new season, but once he was up and running at the Australian Open, there seemed little chance he would fall short of reaching the final.

Djokovic, meanwhile, well ... it's the Australian Open - of course he was going to reach the final.

Now something has to give. The head-to-head record does not make for great reading for Nadal: Djokovic holds a slender 27-25 advantage, but on hard courts the Serbian has won their past eight meetings.

That run is set to end here as Nadal, with his adapted game, secures a second career Grand Slam.

Nadal's new aggressive approach - led by a remodelled and faster serve - has allowed the Spaniard to attack from the start of rallies, meaning Nadal can now bully his opponents in shorter points as well as drawn-out duels from the baseline.

His forehand remains the most dangerous groundstroke in all of tennis, while his backhand has improved immeasurably in recent seasons. It's not just his weaponry, though, but his intensity and sheer relentlessness from first point to last that makes Nadal so formidable.

Of course, Nadal has not yet faced an opponent of Djokovic's calibre, and his game will receive a thorough examination against the toughest of challenges.

However, Djokovic has wobbled on a few occasions in Melbourne, notably with dropped sets against Daniil Medvedev and Denis Shapovalov. Granted, the world No 1 responded by thrashing both players, but should a similar stumble occur in the final, Nadal is unlikely to be as kind.

Regardless of form and records, a match between these two juggernauts usually produces a classic, and this Australian Open final should be no different.

By the end, though, it will be Nadal hoisting - and biting - the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup for a second time.

Jon Turner

Updated: January 27, 2019 11:51 AM

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