LONDON — The ATP season will finish with its two best players going head-to-head for the sixth time this year in the fiercest rivalry in tennis.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals on Monday night. Djokovic, the defending champion, dispatched Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-3 on Sunday for his 21st consecutive victory. Nadal booked his spot with a decisive 7-5, 6-3 win over Roger Federer in the earlier semifinal.
“This is probably the most competitive tournament that we have after Grand Slams, and we both want to crown this season in the best possible way and end it with a title,” Djokovic said ahead of his 39th career match against Nadal.
The two haven’t played each other indoors since the World Tour Finals in 2010. Nadal holds the indoor edge 2-1, and he’s 22-16 overall (including 3-2 this year). Nadal clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking here, but Djokovic has been the more in-form player. Brimming with confidence, he’s unbeaten since losing to Nadal in the U.S. Open final. Nadal is seeking his 11th title of 2013.
“I think if I don’t play my best tomorrow, I’m not [going to] have chances,” Nadal said. “I need to play more aggressive. It’s true that [against Federer] I tried to play aggressive from the beginning, but it’s very difficult to play aggressive against a player who tries to go for the shots on every ball. So we’ll see tomorrow how it is.”
They are the two best defenders in the game, and Monday’s match will turn on who can impose his offense more effectively. Nadal is pursuing his first title at the World Tour Finals, which would be yet another jewel on his growing résumé.
“He has immensely improved on hard courts,” Djokovic said. “Compared to all the other surfaces in our sport, this is probably his least preferable, but not this year. This year he has had incredible success. He’s more aggressive. He’s using his serve better.”
A win would give Djokovic four straight titles to complete the season. He beat Nadal in the final of the China Open last month, improving to 1-2 on hard courts against the Spaniard this year.
“I’m trying to take a lot of positive energy out of this confidence and out of this run that I had,” Djokovic said. “I won against him in the finals of Beijing in straight sets and I played a great match. I liked the way I improved in our matches. I like that I changed a few things that allowed me to win against him. That’s something that I will definitely try to use tomorrow.”
The fall is Djokovic’s prime season. Over the last two years he has gone 36-1 after the U.S. Open, taking advantage of the fatigue setting in on his fellow players. Nadal has shown some signs of slowing down this fall, but with just one match left in the season and a title he’s never won on the line, motivation won’t be a problem.
“No clear favorites in the final,” Djokovic said. “It’s always expected that we go the distance. Let the better man win.”
Prediction: Djokovic in three sets.