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Nadal on Djokovic ahead of Australian Open final: 'We push each other to the limit'

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 26 Jan 2019
  • Nadal: 'I feel lucky to have these rivals'
  • Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic face off on Sunday in the final of the 2019 Australian Open
Rafael Nadal faces Novak Djokovic in the final of the 2019 Australian Open on Sunday (SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal says he feels 'lucky' to have rivals like Novak Djokovic.

'I feel lucky to have these rivals,' Rafael Nadal said as he prepares to face Novak Djokovic on Sunday.

Nadal and Djokovic will face off for the 53rd time in the final of the 2019 Australian Open, with significant milestones for both on the line. Should 2009 champion Nadal win the Australian Open again, he will become the first man in the Open Era to have won each major at least twice. Should Djokovic win, he will become the all-time Australian Open titles leader with a total of seven, moving clear of Roger Federer and Roy Emerson; he will also follow in the footsteps of Federer and Nadal by surpassing Pete Sampras's total of 14 Grand Slam titles.

This is the first time Nadal and Djokovic have faced off in a Grand Slam final since the 2014 French Open, and their first meeting at the Australian Open since their famous 2012 match, which saw Djokovic triumph after five hours and 53 minutes - the longest Grand Slam final in history.

Nadal and Djokovic meet at the net after their Wimbledon semifinal (GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
'I have probably shared all my career with the two best players of the history [Djokovic and Federer], probably with me, maybe Rod Laver. But at the same time that's a very demanding thing,' Nadal said, speaking to the press on Saturday.

'Have been a very special moment that we share together in the court with Novak during all our careers in the most important stages. We push each other to the limit of our tennis level. I feel lucky to have these rivals and tomorrow going to be another episode.'

While Djokovic leads the overall head-to-head 27-25 and 18-7 on hard courts, it's Nadal who has looked on more formidable form at the Australian Open. For just the second time anywhere other than Roland Garros, Nadal has advanced to the final of a major without dropping a set, losing just 48 games in victories over James Duckworth, Matthew Ebden, Tomas Berdych and 'Next Gen' players Alex de Minaur, Frances Tiafoe and Stefanos Tsitsipas. It isn't his most brutal run at a Grand Slam ever - three times at the French Open he has conceded less than 40 games in all seven matches - but it's worth noting that every time Nadal has reached a major final without dropping a set, he's gone on to win the title.

Much of the credit for Nadal's dominant run has gone to an improved service motion, which has led to some impressive serving stats: Nadal has been winning 81% of points behind his first serve, while serving at above 69%, and has only been broken twice throughout the tournament.

'When you have rivals like this in front, is easier to have a clear view about the things you have to improve,' Nadal said.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion would be the first to admit that his dominance on the way to the final has been a little bit of a surprise given that his preparation for this year's Australian Open was hardly ideal. Nadal had not played a tournament since retiring in the semifinals against Juan Martin del Potro at the US Open last September, and pulled out of his only scheduled warm-up event in Brisbane due to a thigh strain.

Nadal in action (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
'It is my first event since the US Open. It's true that during the last two years when I've been competing, I have been winning a lot. But last year in terms of injuries, having a tough year, too,' Nadal said. 'I am surprised. I am happy more than surprised. But here we are, start of another year, and I really enjoying again the competition.

'I am very happy to that have feeling again. Of course, is little bit surprising that it happen that early.'

While Nadal dominated the rivalry with Djokovic early on, winning 14 of their first 18 matches, it has become a much more even affair over the past decade. Djokovic has twice put together seven-match winning streaks against the Spaniard, and has won all seven of their last matches on hard courts. The two last met in the semifinals of Wimbledon last July, a match that finished 10-8 in the fifth set in Djokovic's favour - an outcome that won't be possible on Sunday thanks to the Australian Open's new scoring rules, which have instituted a ten-point match tie-break at 6-6 in the deciding set. 

'He has played impressively well throughout the entire tournament. He hasn't dropped a set. He looked as good as ever on the hard court throughout these few weeks. I haven't played bad myself last couple matches. I think that this finals comes at the right time for both of us. I'm sure we're going to have a blast on the court,' Djokovic said on Friday.

'We can promise one thing, and that's knowing both of us that we're going to give absolutely everything out on the court.'

Nadal said:

'I think I found solutions against Novak during all my career, and he found solutions against me. Is always about moments. In his best moments, he's so difficult to beat. In my best moments, I have been a tough opponent too.'

Will we see the best moments of Nadal or Djokovic - or both - on the court on Sunday? Read our full match preview for Djokovic vs Nadal here.

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Nadal on Djokovic ahead of Australian Open final: 'We push each other to the limit'

Rafael Nadal says he feels 'lucky' to have rivals like Novak Djokovic, against whom he will play in the final of the 2019 Australian Open in the 53rd installment of their rivalry

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