We asked SI.com’s experts to predict Sunday’s Wimbledon men’s final between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Novak Djokovic (9 a.m. ET, NBC). Here’s what they said:
We get No. 1 versus No. 2 — and the guy ranked No. 2 is the defending champ, and winner of four of the last five majors, and 20 straight matches at the All England Club. I think the key is Nadal’s mastery of grass, which was in full effect Friday against Andy Murray. He knows the surface better than Djokovic does, he volleys better, and defends comparably. Thinking Nadal in a classic. Nadal in five.
Oddly, Djokovic drops into this Wimbledon final — the moment he dreamed of as a kid, the place where he first saw his idol Pete Sampras win — with the pressure eased just a bit. Becoming No. 1 had been the consuming dream of his life, and now that Djokovic is guaranteed that that will indeed happen this Monday, I suspect he’ll find himself able to play without the weight — the big winning streak, all those names and numbers he passed — created by his incredible play over the last six months. Nadal, of course, remains a force of nature, and if Roger Federer can beat Djokovic in Paris, surely Rafa can do the same in London. But the few infinitesimal signs of slippage that we’ve seen over the last few months — including Nadal’s four losses to Novak — leave just enough room for doubt. Djokovic in five.
Djokovic was my pre-tournament pick, and I’ll stand by my man. He’s beaten Nadal four times this year and seems to be in the Spaniard’s head a bit. However, this is grass, it’s Wimbledon, and as he often does, Nadal is peaking just in time for the final. His level of play in the last three sets against Murray was ridiculous. It will take all of Nole’s stamina and self-belief to beat back Nadal’s inevitable surges in the final, he’ll have to keep his composure if Nadal resorts to his patented gamesmanship, milking the clock and the injury time-outs. Nole finally achieved his lifelong ambition of becoming No. 1. On Sunday he can remove all doubt. Djokovic in five.
As Novak Djokovic laid waste to the tennis countryside through the first few months of the year, it reached the point where he dominated the great Rafael Nadal. Inconceivable, isn’t it? That anyone could beat Nadal four times in a row, even on a clay-court surface? I think Nadal has heard just about enough of Djokovic’s winning streak, and how “everything has changed,” as some claim, in their rivalry. Nadal positively owns Wimbledon, even as he gets pain-killing injections in his left foot before each match. He owns it like Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer once did. One hates to see the spoiling of Djokovic’s lifetime dream, but I’ll take Nadal here. Nadal in four.
I picked Nadal at the start of the tournament and he hasn’t done anything to change my faith. As Jon Wertheim wrote, Nadal issued a “clinic in the art of competition” against Murray in the semis. He broke his opponent’s spirit and neutralized the pro-Murray crowd. So why I am picking Djokovic? I think this Wimbledon is his time, and my instincts tell me I’d be a fool for picking against someone who has lost just once since November. He’s also won five of his last seven matches against Nadal, including the last four meetings. Nadal and Djokovic have met twice on grass (both won by Nadal) but Djokovic was competitive at Queens in 2008 before losing, 7-6, 7-5. I bring that match up, a lifetime ago, because it tells me The Djoker was not intimidated by Nadal even then. And we all know what Nole is now. Here’s hoping for the match of the year. Djokovic in five.
Bryan Armen Graham
Unstoppable force vs. immovable object is one of humanity’s oldest philosophical pick ‘ems. Nadal enters Sunday’s final with 20 straight wins at Wimbledon, having not lost here since Obama was a junior senator. Djokovic is 49-1 overall since Thanksgiving, with no less than four wins over Rafa during that span. But something’s got to give and my gut says it’s Nole, whose first Wimbledon final will be Nadal’s fifth. That experience, plus Nadal’s edge in grass-court aptitude, will be the difference in a knock-down, drag-out epic. Nadal in five.
This was the Australian Open final that should have been, could have been had Nadal not come up lame against countryman David Ferrer two rounds earlier. And then just as now, I don’t see how he stops Djokovic. He was dominating Nadal during a 43-match unbeaten streak beforehand, and now Djokovic has the No. 1 ranking to further stoke him. Don’t get me wrong: this will be a tussle, but I think when the dust (such is the state of the well-worn turf at this stage of the fortnight) settles, the guard in men’s tennis will have formally changed. Djokovic in five.
It pains me to go against Rafa. Feels like the ultimate betrayal. But the Djoker has been in Nadal’s head all year, even annihilating him on the Spaniard’s precious clay this season. That and the fact that Djokovic is riding high off of his forthcoming No. 1 ranking and you have to give the edge to Nole grind this one out. However, because Nadal will be playing with somewhat of a bruised ego, expect the Spaniard to bring the pain and make Nole grunt and skin his knees a few times. They’ll be very few smiles for the Djoker in this death match but his knowledge of Nadal’s game should prove victorious in the end. Djokovic in five.
How do you see Sunday’s final? Share your prediction in the comments below.