Djokovic and Nadal Are Set for Another Epic Duel Down Under

Djokovic and Nadal Are Set for Another Epic Duel Down Under

Both players have had to adapt, had to overcome recent difficulty, to get to this point. Nadal arrived in Melbourne with low expectations, having taken a hiatus from the tour after last fall’s United States Open, where he withdrew in the semifinals, citing a leg injury. In November, he had ankle surgery.

Dogged by his injured elbow at last year’s Australian Open, Djokovic was routed in the quarterfinals by Hyeon Chung, a South Korean ranked No. 58 at the time. That loss was one of a batch of stunning upsets he suffered in major championships after winning the French Open in 2016. Plenty of questions were swirling around him at the time. He often wore a hangdog, puzzled look on his face during matches, where once there had been nothing but ice-cold surety.

Would he ever return to form?

But then, last summer, after elbow surgery and a remodeling of his priorities and his coaching team, the old Djokovic emerged. His health returned. So, too, did his steel-trap resolve. He won Wimbledon, beating Nadal in a five-set marathon that Djokovic credited here with giving “a different, more confident self.”

Later in the summer, he won his 14th Grand Slam at a sweltering U.S. Open, tightening his grip on the top of the men’s rankings.

Now he finds himself again in a Melbourne final, with a chance to repeat the glory of 2012, a chance for a 15th Grand Slam, just two behind the Spaniard’s haul of 17, within striking distance of Federer, who sits at 20 for most in a career.

At his postmatch news conference, I asked Djokovic to imagine a future conversation with his two children, who were not yet born seven years ago, and how he would describe that last epic Melbourne night against Nadal.

“How would I describe it?” he said, pausing before adding a touch of humor. “I’ll probably not have them sit down and watch it because I don’t like my children to watch TV that long.”

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