As expected Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have booked their place in the final in what will be the 53rd career meeting between the two. While Nadal will bid to become the only player in Open Era to win every major grand slam title atleast twice, Djokovic will be aiming to extend his record by winning a seventh Australian Open title. He is tied with Roger Federer with six titles in Melbourne at the first grand slam of the year. Petra Kvitova and Naomi Osaka will contest the women’s singles final where the winner will also emerge as the new world number one ranked player.
On Thursday evening Rafael Nadal continued his quest for his 18th grand slam title with yet another straight sets victory. Still to drop a set in six matches now at this year’s Open, the 2009 champion swept past the Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2,6-4,6-0 in only one hour and forty minutes on the Rod Laver Arena. The 32 year old Spaniard hit 26 winners and took the first set in only 31 minutes breaking the 20 year old Tsitsipas’ serve twice. In the second set, the 15th ranked prodigy saved three break points in the fifth game, but once Nadal broke in the ninth game the result was never in doubt as he reeled of eight successive games to seal his place in what would be his fifth appearance in an Australian Open final.
The 31 year old world number one, Novak Djokovic of Serbia produced what he called as the perfect match as he routed the Frenchman Lucas Pouille 6-0,6-2,6-2 in only 83 minutes on Friday evening. Djokovic had only five unforced errors and won 45 of his 53 service points. The Serb takes a 27-25 record into the finals. He leads Nadal 18-7 in their hard court matches, but the Spaniard is 9-5 at the major championships which includes 4-3 in the finals. Tsitsipas will rise to a career high no. 12 in the rankings, while Pouille breaks back into the Top 20 rankings when the new rankings are released on Monday.
The women’s singles will be played on Saturday between the fourth seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan, the reigning U.S. Open champion and the two time former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic. The 2011 and 2014 champion overcame stiff resistance in the opening set against the American Danielle Rose Collins, but once she took the first set 7-2 in the tie-break she seeled her place in the final winning the second set to love. Collins who had previously not even made it past the first round at a grand slam tournament, offered token resistance in the second set against the left handed Kvitova.
In the first semi-final on Thursday, Osaka took on the seventh seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic who had ended the hopes of Serena Williams in dramatic fashion in the last eight as she rallied from a 1-5 deficit in the decider. Osaka took the first set easily, but Pliskova as expected rallied to level the match. Osaka regrouped to take the third set and the match 6-2,4-6,6-4. That prevents an all Czech final and what will be the first career meeting between the two, the winner will not only be crowned Australian Open champion but also the new world number one when the WTA rankings are announced on Monday.
Prediction : Djokovic, the pre tournament favourite has dropped only two sets and has looked in brutal form in his last two matches. The left handed Nadal, who will be sentimental favourite having lost in his last three final appearance in Melbourne. The pair played out a five hour 53 minute final in 2012 which Djokovic won. Just like that match expect this one to be another classic.
Djokovic should win in four bitterly contested sets, maybe five. In the ladies section history beckons both with the additional incentive of world number one ranking on the line. Kvitova should become the oldest first time number one but it will be not be an easy match. Kvitova in three sets, it may even match last year’s dramatic final between Carolina Wozniacki and Simona Halep.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: sportzcosmos@]