World Tour Finals final preview and pick: Nadal vs. Djokovic

The final ATP tournament of the year comes down to the world’s top two players on Monday in London. It’s Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic for the title.

Something will have to give when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic collide for the 39th time in their careers in the title match of the World Tour Finals on Monday afternoon. Nadal has been the best player this season and has clinched the year-end world No. 1 ranking. Djokovic, though, has been the dominant man from start to finish this fall.

Since losing the U.S. Open final to Nadal, Djokovic has won 21 consecutive matches. The second-ranked Serb triumphed in Beijing, Shanghai, and Paris to storm into London with incredible momentum. Although it hasn’t been easy, he has not looked back. Djokovic scored three-set round-robin wins over Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Richard Gasquet before hammering Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-3 in Sunday’s semifinals.

Nadal compiled a perfect round-robin record at the World Tour Finals for the second time in his career and he is through to his second final at this event. The Spaniard beat Wawrinka, David Ferrer, and Tomas Berdych–the latter in three sets–then took out Federer 7-5, 6-3 on Sunday. Nadal is an incredible 75-6 for the season and four of his 10 titles are of the hard-court variety.

“I hope to be ready for that for the last remaining match,” the top seed said. “I know it’s going to be a difficult one. But I will try my best. I need to play my best match to have a chance tomorrow.”

Nadal generally says that even when facing someone outside the Top 100, but in this case it is the truth. Although he leads the head-to-head series 22-16, Djokovic owns a 12-7 edge on hard courts. Included in Djokovic’s unblemished fall streak is a 6-3, 6-4 drubbing of Nadal in the Beijing final.

Djokovic’s two-handed backhand down the line, which is the best in the business, could be the difference in this showdown. He has been timing it expertly this week and he can use it to counter his opponent’s heavy topspin to the ad side. Djokovic can also handle Nadal’s spin serve out wide better than anyone. At the same time, Nadal is playing too well, is too tough of a competitor, and the surface is not playing fast enough for this to be anything other than an appropriately thrilling end to 2013.

Pick: Djokovic in 3

52 Comments on World Tour Finals final preview and pick: Nadal vs. Djokovic

    • I wouldnt describe it as only mild applause although it’s true Rafa came onto the court to thunderous applause and also had the lions share both during and at the end. In general this year’s crowd were better behaved and more respectful towards all the players which has not always been the case in the past.

  1. This was Rafa’s best (!) post U.S. Open swing in last 7 years. He earned more points than ever and reached at least the semifinals in every tournament.

    WTF – Final
    Masters 1000 Paris – SF
    Masters 1000 Shanghai – SF
    ATP-500, Beijing – Final

    Points earned after the U.S. Open (until the end of the year, without Davis Cup):
    2013 – 2020 – the best result
    2012 – didn’t play
    2011 – 590
    2010 – 1680
    2009 – 1140
    2008 – 180″”
    2007 – 960″”
    “”The points earned before 2009 are recalculated according to the current ATP Point table.

    • ^^Thank you @augusta08, the voice of reason! The cup is indeed half full, not half empty……..

      Well done Rafa, rest well and see you next year! I am expecting a great 2014 for Rafa.


  2. Nah. Definitely not a confidence smasher. But was surprised by Rafa’s approach. The moment Nole struck a BHDTL in a rally, Rafa panicked and went for broke too much to avoid it.

    Moreover, I do acknowledge that Nole is probably the best returner but he seems to be most comfortable while returning Rafa, almost getting a look at the break in every service game. And this has been a constant feature in their rivalry. Probably Rafa is missing a trick on his serve.

    • @abhirf, Rafa’s tactics were to be aggressive but the implementation did not come off, hence appearing to be going too much for broke. I think this is due to mental fatigue. A fresh Rafa would have calibrated that aggressiveness better………

      Novak definitely has his game back. His FHDTL is back and that is always a sign of confidence on his part. He appeared calm whereas Rafa looked rushed and ragged.

      This sets up 2014 nicely. Can’t wait for AO2014!

  3. I didn’t get to see the match, only the last couple of games due to my own obligations…since I did not have any idea how Rafa has been playing until the moment I started watching I naturally had my hopes up that Rafa would recover from a break down…But as soon as I have seen him playing I realized one thing: this was not Rafa I expected to see…I did tape the whole match but after reading all your comments I am not sure I want to watch it…

    This is not Rafa’s part of the year, yet he accomplished so much…he is back to No1 and will have well deserved rest to get ready for the next season…we should be happy about him…and he was so sweet at the ceremony…Bravo Rafa for everything you accomplished this year! We are so proud of you!!!

    Nole after all deserved to win…he worked hard to get here…but I feel he is only won the battle…Rafa wins the war…

    Vamos Rafa!

      • True indeed: The King of predictions RickyD reigns! I humbly bow to your art of prophecy…although you also expected it to go to three sets…so you were only partially right… 🙂 I bet you were afraid to predict straight set win because of us rather offensive Rafans here 🙂

        And I move on to celebrate the end of this season only because Rafa will be given time to rest his knees…I really believe Rafa to win the AO 2014…

        Enjoy your time off Rafa! We love you!

        Vamos Rafa no matter what!

  4. I felt sorry for Rafa watching him play tonight… not the level I expected. But he did still fight. And I loved the smile on his face when he spoke at the ceremony. WTF indoors against Novak and while seemingly tired… a bridge too far. Now for a well-deserved break. Here’s hoping his knee holds out as well as through next year’s WTF as it has this year.
    Congrats to Novak. Fully deserved victory today and trophy this week, in fact all trophies since the US Open.
    And it’s amazing how close they are in points at the end of this unusual year. Next year will be interesting yet again, especially when Andy returns with a healthy back.

  5. Worst season of Major finals in recent memory. Only competitive final was in Australia. Only a big 2 now is bad for tennis. New blood needed. Hats off to the bull and the joker though.

  6. I did not expect Rafa to win this but hoped he did as he wanted it real bad as it was missing in his resume. What I saw was really disappointing. Never did I think it will be a straight set defeat , I def thought will go to 3.

    Indoors is just not Rafa surface though he did much better this year than other years.
    The serving, FH, ROS all of it was so bad all match, it was pathetic to watch.

    Also on tired part, Nole has played as many matches as Rafa..if he can gut out a win, there should be no excuses for Rafa

    Rafa has kinda lost the edge he built on Nole by these 2 defeats and Nole will now be very high on confidence to start 2014. He is the out n out fav for AO 2014.

  7. Also it is very upsetting that Gasquet, Delpo, Fed all took set off Nole but Rafa did not.

    Also his post match pressser saying he was not the fav for the match, hence not very disspointed is very upsetting to read. A World No 1 cant talk like that. Thats is why I like Nole and Feds pressers more – they never talk themselves down.

    • Sanju @November 12, 2013 at 7:32 am

      —Raafa may get AO 2014 but Nole is clear fav for it.—

      Paraphrasing you, a fan of the world No.1 can’t talk like that 🙂

    • @Sanju 7:32 am, if the benchmark is Gasquet, Delpo and Fed taking sets off Novak and Rafa not doing so then to be afir we should also ask how many TITLES the said trio have taken off Novak. Truth is, I do not think this is a fair comparison. Gasquet, Delpo, Fed did not make the final, Gasquet and Delpo did not even get out of the Group stage. It is very plausible that Novak was conserving his energy, not playing full throttle tennis, waiting for the final.

      Ask Gasquet, Delpo or Fed whose 2013 they would like to have, Nole’s or Rafa’s and I bet you my bottom dollar they will ALL say Rafa’s. Even Novak himself, with all the success he has had in 2013, would trade all those M1000s, 500 and WTF for a French Open title, USOpen title and ending the year as #1.

      We should all now accept that Novak is going to be a thorn in Rafa’s side for the rest of his career. Personally, I like that scenario because that is the impetus Rafa needs to stay vigilant and keep improving.

      Rafa has done amazingly well in 2013………….he will do even better in 2014.

      • Leave it to Djokovic to articulate better what I am trying to say:

        “The Grand Slams are the tournaments where I want to win, where I want to get my hands on the title,” he said.

        “That will be my highest priority for next year.”

        “It was very satisfying,” he said. “After the last two and a half months, even more.

        “But the only thing I’m not as satisfied about is the fact that I lost the three big matches in the three Grand Slams.”

  8. Sanju. There are different kinds of tiredness. It was not just physical for Rafa. He has ridden a giant roller coaster this year. We all hoped and prayed he might pull this one off but truth be told he has been running on willpower alone since the US and against Djokovic in the mood he was it was never going to be enough.

    • Yes ed but Nole suffered the same in summer. The RACE with Rafa got to him and affected him, the minute he became No 2 and the hunter, he started playing well. 4 in a row in fall is HUGE, I doubt he expected it himself. Maybe it is better for Rafa to be hunter and just take the No 1 towards end of year and stay No 2 for most part of year 🙂

  9. You and me @nats! I am very bullish about Rafa’s chances at AO 2014! He is getting that one……..beat you to that prediction, Ricky!

      • @Sanju, there is no contradiction in what I am saying at all! Being bullish about his chances does not mean he will win! I do not play the matches for him. I was bullish about his WTF chances, he played a lousy match and lost, stuff happens. Novak was better on the day.

        That does not mean I am unhappy about Rafa’s overall Fall performance, quite the opposite, and this is what makes me very very optimistic about AO 2014. Nole is clear favourite for AO2014, so what else is new? I am not arguing with that, I just think Rafa is in a good place to challenge him.

        Unlike you, I am not judging Rafa by his WTF final performance, he is better than that and he will be better than that at AO 2014.

  10. I don’t want to make the mistake of getting carried away like some did after Rafa completed the Summer Slam, beating Djoker twice in the process. I was reading a lot of hyperbole here about how Djoker wouldn’t be able to beat Rafa again, how he was in denial about the fact that Rafa had his number and on and on. There were also some who talked up Rafa’s chances during the fall hard court season, making it seem as though he would win every tournament he played.

    I didn’t have very high expectations for Rafa, but did think he was capable of getting good results and possibly a title. This has never been a good time of the tennis year for him. I wasn’t shocked that he lost to Djoker at Beijing, but was concerned about the manner in which he lost. I think Rafa got solid results that enabled him to ultimately clinch the year end #1 ranking.

    That’s why I am now not going to freak out over this loss in the final to Djoker. I am not happy about it and especially about the way Rafa played. But I am not going to read too much into this. Rafa did want to win the WTF. But it has seemed to me that he just didn’t have it mentally anymore. I think he was pushing himself in the tournaments he did play. But when you have hit a wall, then there’s not much that can be done.

    I am also not going to get into an analysis of why Rafa was mentally fatigued and Djoker was not in this final. We should remember that for the better part of this year, Djoker has been the one who looked mentally frail and out of it in crucial moments of matches. He is the one who would double fault away his serve and be up a break and then give it back. He didn’t have it when it counted on many occasions. However, Rafa did have the mental strength to gut out tough wins against Djoker. He was the one who had the reliable serve, the more aggressive game, the dtl forehand and cc backhand.

    I think Rafa beat Djoker mentally in the great wins he had over him this year. These two are so closely matched and very little separates them. But Rafa had the edge mentally all year up until the fall. So I am able to accept that Rafa finally was mentally exhausted. He has accomplished so much this year and just maybe he is entitled to have a letdown.

    Djoker needed these wins more than Rafa. He needed to win some more titles and defend all of his points from last year. I do think that losing the #1 ranking was the thing that made Djoker get it together finally.

    I am not ready to say that this is going to change the dynamic in the Rafa/Djoker rivalry. Rafa needs to take a break, rest and relax. Then he can come back fresh and ready for 2014. I always felt that Djoker wasn’t going anywhere. Their rivalry has had its ebbs and flows. I just hope that Rafa can stay healthy enough to keep on doing well and still getting great wins against Djoker.

    That’s my perspective after taking a while to kind of think about what happened in this final. I sincerely hope that Rafa will just enjoy himself, go fishing, be with family and friends and get recharged.

    I think the 2014 AO is going to be a great one! The good news is that Rafa will be there! 🙂

    • Excellent post NNY. Agree with all of it , okay with the losses too but def not okay that it happened in straights yest.

    • nativenewyorker7 says:
      —I think Rafa beat Djoker mentally in the great wins he had over him this year…I just hope that Rafa can stay healthy enough to keep on doing well—

      When Rafa returned to the ATP tour on February 4th, he was 7560 (!) points behind Djoko in the ATP rankings. Today he is 920 points ahead (!) of Djoko – the former No.1.
      Numbers don’t lie – they show how well Rafa played this year compared to the former No.1.

      With his courage and candor and beautiful smile,
      His fans hope that he will stay with us awhile.

  11. Nole knows he has got the chance over Rafa after USO simply because Rafa always gets drained and tired in the last quarter of the year! Even those who do not follow tennis closely know that Rafa’s form drops beginning of October. What else is new? So, of course Nole has mental advantage over Rafa in these late-in-the-year matches. All the Serbian commentators (no exception!) when commenting Rafa’s matches after USO would begin with the same old line: “Rafa’s form is declining towards the end of the year and that is what was expected”…etc..

    However, it gets completely different fitness-wise in January. Rafa will be fresh and energized and Nole will no longer be so self-confident about beating Rafa. This is why I expect Rafa (provided his knees are ok!) to be the man to beat at AO. He likes the surface there. He likes the weather. He has won it before…he loves everything about AO…I am not saying Nole will be less competitive…I am just saying Rafa will be completely different opponent!

    So these pessimistic approaches and lamentation over Rafa’s great season really have no ground. If someone told you last year at this time that Rafa would be wining two GSs, 5 M1000, and played all those finals, you would have probably thought he/she was crazy. So please, stop whining and complaining about great accomplishments of our Rafa!! It is not fair to our boy!

    speaking of being carried away…I remember reading here not so long ago that Rafa will never again win a hard court tournament again…hahahaa…and that is what I call “bad assessment”…

    Vamos Rafa!

    • Yes the season was beyond what any of us would have dremt of at start of the year, no one would have expected 14 finals nd 10 titles. However given that wewere spoilt , the lack of titles from the final 4 tourneys and the 2 consecutive straight set losses to Nole as well as DElpo, Ferrer were a bit bad.

      Hope he wins atleast 2 slams next year, hopefully AO & FO.

  12. Ricky Dimon@November 11, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Ricky, you must get a consolation prize. 🙂
    After Rafa’s comeback, you picked Djoko to win 10 titles: Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Wimbledon, Montreal, Cincinnati, USO, Shanghai, WTF. Djoko won two of them (Shanghai, WTF) and Rafa – six.

    • “why would anyone pick Nadal to beat Djokovic on a hard court?”

      For the following reasons, maybe:

      1. Rafa is quite good on HC, especially outdoors;
      2. Rafa has beaten Djokovic before on HC, both indoors and outdoors (7 times to be precise).

    • Picking Nadal not to win on hardcourt this year was a good pick, until he started to win much more than expected on clay and again much more than expected on hardcourt. By this time we were getting close to the USO. Even then Rafa had to be considered less likely to win the USO than Novak.

      Don’t beat up on me as I am a Rafa fan all the way but had Rafa met Novak at IW he might not have won. And I am not saying ‘would not’, just ‘might not’. It would have been the expected result, and retroactively still is, that early in Rafa’s comeback.

      In other words I agree with Ricky if you have to say it in the most general sense, generally speaking, on average, you can expect Novak to beat Rafa on hardcourt. At a particular tournament and also depending on their forms etc, that is not always the case. But even then Rafa is generally the underdog, even if only by a smaller amount than when Roger as an underdog meets Rafa on hardcourt.

      • ^^I agree with you on indoor HC, @chloro, Novak is the undisputed favourite. On outdoor HC, best of 3, I call the match-up even. On outdoor HC, best of 5 I now give the edge to Rafa.

      • i correctly predicted hard-court domination by Novak.

        I just thought it would start sooner than Beijing!


  13. ritb,
    If we know anything about Ricky and who he is personally a fan of, Nadal or Novak, it is the boy from the village on the island who brings flowers.

  14. Sanju@November 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm
    —However given that we were spoilt , the lack of titles from the final 4 tourneys…were a bit bad.—

    Rafa has won only 3 titles after the U.S.Open during his career:
    ¤ Beijing (then in a lower category than ATP-500); 12.09.2005; Outdoor: Hard; Opponent in the final: Guillermo Coria (ARG);
    ¤ Madrid, Masters Series ; 17.10.2005; Indoor: Hard; Opponent in the final: Ivan Ljubicic (CRO)
    ¤ Tokyo, ATP-500; 04.10.2010; Outdoor: Hard; Opponent in the final: Gael Monfils (FRA).

    Let me remind you again your comment after the USO.
    “Sanju says:
    September 10, 2013 at 7:28 am
    I really dont care what Rafa does now till WTF, he can lose in 1st round of all tourneys….” [U.S. Open final expert picks: Djokovic vs. Nadal, September 9, 2013

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