x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Rafael Nadal admits Novak Djokovic has mental edge

Spaniard has been beaten four times this season, but world No 1-in-waiting says defending champion is fitter and predicts long rallies in Sunday's Wimbledon final.

Spain's Rafael Nadal has won 10 grand slam singles titles so far.
Spain's Rafael Nadal has won 10 grand slam singles titles so far.

Rafael Nadal fears Novak Djokovic has a psychological advantage heading into today's Wimbledon final. It will be a fifth appearance in the final for Nadal and a first for Djokovic, but momentum is with the Serbian if their recent matches are to have any bearing on the outcome.

The Spaniard stressed that he is not worried about where he stands in the pantheon of great champions, just whether he finishes first or second in what shapes up as an exceptional title battle. Nadal has come off second-best in the four matches he and Djokovic have contested this season, all of them when a trophy was at stake.

He is troubled by that sequence, given that he is not used to losing on the big occasions, as a grand slam record of 10 titles from 12 finals demonstrates. And despite defeating Andy Murray in impressive style in the semi-finals, Nadal has good reason to consider Djokovic an altogether greater obstacle.

"His mental position over me today is probably a little bit better because he won the last four finals against me," Nadal said. "We will see what happens on Sunday. I have to play aggressively. I have to play with intensity, with rhythm." The defeats to Djokovic this year, coming on hard courts at Indian Wells and Miami, and on Nadal's favourite surface, clay, in Madrid and Rome, have been hard to bear. But being on the receiving end has allowed Nadal to assess a player who will rise above him to become the world No 1 today.

Nadal said: "In my opinion his total game is really complete: good serve, very good movement, his eyes are very fast and he can go inside the court very easily playing very difficult shots.

"In my opinion his biggest ability is take the ball very early. Roger [Federer] does it very well, too. That's something very difficult, and they do it very easily."

There is always danger in wanting something too much, and Djokovic has left no doubt over what success today would mean. Asked if it would be his greatest achievement, he said: "Yes, because it's Wimbledon. It's just simply something I've dreamed of forever."

But he knows that the defending champion will not give up his title lightly. "Physically, we all know that he's superior and he's the strongest player around, the most prepared," Djokovic said. "So I'm ready for long rallies, long points.

"The four times I won against him this year can probably help me in some ways mentally prior to this match."

Djokovic, 24, began the year with 41 consecutive victories, and defeat to Federer in the French Open semi-finals last month does not appear to have rattled him.

Reaching the final has secured him the No 1 ranking, but he feels under no pressure to justify his new status. "I don't need to prove anything to anybody, just to myself. I want to win this trophy. "I am very much looking forward to it, very much excited. There is no bigger challenge at this point in our sport than playing in a Wimbledon final against Nadal."

Nadal will let his achievements speak for themselves the day he retires back to a quiet life of golf and fishing in Majorca.

"Seriously, I care about records, I care about statistics, and I care about the history of tennis," he said.

"But now is not the right moment for me to talk about that. I am 25 years old. We will see when I finish my career where I am in the history of tennis."

Nadal might not want to talk numbers and his place in history, but both are hard to avoid. He won 10 grand slam titles, six short of Federer's record, and another today will nudge him into the company of Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver.

His fifth appearance in a Wimbledon final places him alongside John McEnroe and behind only Pete Sampras, Federer, Boris Becker, Borg and Jimmy Connors.

It is his 13th slam final and only Borg, who was 24, has reached a 13th sooner than Nadal.

Since losing to Federer in the 2007 final, Nadal has won 20 consecutive matches at Wimbledon.