Day 14: Ones to watch

  • Tom Tebbutt

Men's final preview: the classic rivalry continues

No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 2 Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are indisputably the two best tennis players in the world and, after tonight’s Australian Open final in Rod Laver Arena, they will hold the four cornerstone titles of their sport.

Both laid down incredible markers in the semifinals – Djokovic mercilessly overwhelming 24-year-old Lucas Pouille 6-0 6-2 6-2 in 83 minutes and Nadal ruthlessly outclassing 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2 6-4 6-0 in an hour and 46 minutes.
Those one-sided wins contrast with the excruciating five-hour and 53-minute, 2012  classic final at Melbourne Park when Djokovic edged Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5.

That was a heartbreaker for the Spaniard – just adding to his star-crossed history at the Australian Open. With the exception of 2009 when he overcame Roger Federer in a gruelling five-set thriller final that left the great Swiss in tears at the presentation ceremony, the 11-time French Open champion has not been blessed at Melbourne Park.


The following year in 2010 he had to retire with a knee injury in the third set of the quarterfinal against Andy Murray and then in 2011 injured a hamstring in the second game of his quarterfinal but carried on and lost 6-4 6-2 6-2 to compatriot David Ferrer.

In 2013 he missed the Australian Open with a stomach virus and in 2014 he tweaked his back in the warm-up and was diminished in a four-set loss to Stan Wawrinka in the final. Then in 2015 he was beaten by Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals as he struggled to find form after a nagging right-wrist injury in 2014 that was followed by appendicitis surgery in November.

A year ago against Marin Cilic, Nadal retired in the fifth set of the quarterfinals with an upper right leg injury.
So in six of the last nine years, ‘Rafa’ has suffered a physical impediment preventing him from performing at his best at the Australian Open. Three weeks ago, he withdrew from the Brisbane International with a left thigh strain and has fortunately looked fit so far at Melbourne Park. Can the popular Spaniard end his run of misfortune Sunday night at Rod Laver Arena and earn his second Aussie Open title to become the only man in tennis’ Open Era (since 1968) to win each of the Grand Slam titles twice?   

Prediction: Djokovic in four sets

No. 5 Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Nicolas Mahut vs. No. 12 Henri Kontinen/John Peers

The historic precedent from the 2019 Australian Open doubles final would be a win for the French pairing of Herbert and Mahut. It would give them titles at all four (one at each) Grand Slam doubles events. They would join seven other teams – the first five are Australian and then there were Dutchmen Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis in 1998 and Americans Bob and Mike Bryan in 2006 – in having a career doubles Grand Slam.

Entering Saturday’s final, Kontinen, 28, and Peers, 30, have a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over Herbert, 27, and Mahut, 37, but Herbert and Mahut won their only Grand Slam encounter – 6-4 6-7(6) 6-4 7-6(8) in the 2016 Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Their other meetings were at the Paris Masters 1000 and the ATP Finals, also in 2016. All three matches wound up being decided in the final set by either a match tiebreak or a regular tiebreak.

Of the four players, Mahut, famous for the 70-68 fifth-set marathon match at Wimbledon in 2010 against John Isner, has the highest career singles ranking at No.37, and four ATP tour titles as well.

Peers, born in Melbourne but now resident in Perth, gives Australians a barracking interest alongside his Finnish partner.
It’s a hard match to pick – more power on the Kontinen-Peers side and superior finesse from Herbert and Mahut. Kontinen and Peers have won five matches in straight sets at the 2019 Aussie Open while Herbert and Mahut have had to go the distance on three occasions.

Prediction: Kontinen and Peers in two sets.