The fire burns within: self-belief is the key | sports | Hindustan Times
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The fire burns within: self-belief is the key

sports Updated: Jul 03, 2011 01:33 IST

Of the many components that make a champion, self-belief underpins all the others. Centre Court will be brimming with the stuff in the men's singles final on Sunday when Rafael Nadal defends his title against Novak Djokovic who, according to the rankings, is officially the best player in the world.

Even if he loses, Djokovic will hold that place, the sort of contradiction that the rankings can throw up but which the Spaniard will politely ignore, for a few hours at least.

Winning tournaments, big or small, is the only motivation Nadal has ever needed. For all that he will be reaching for his 11th grand slam title to move within five of the departed Roger Federer, his Spanish eyes will be fixed with intensity on just one man, not on records or accolades that are determined over a season.

Djokovic is prepared for the assault. "When you know you're going to be the best in the world and you're reaching the finals of your favorite tournament, it's something special," he said after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets of shifting drama.

On the evidence of the two semi-finals, it is nearly impossible to make one man the favourite because they have reached a peak together. If anything, the tennis Nadal played towards the end of his match against Murray was on such a plane of excellence it is hard to imagine anyone matching it. He might not be able to do so himself, though, especially against an opponent who has beaten him in four finals already this year and, until Federer beat him in the semi-finals of the French Open, was building an aura even the great Swiss would envy.

He has resumed his run here and, although dropping a set against the resurgent Tsonga, also rounded out victory with the sort of commanding performance that induces trepidation in rivals.

Nadal does not fear him, but he will show him due respect. As to how the match will play out, it is unlikely either finalist will depart from type. Nadal built his win against Murray on that killing flick of his iron-like left wrist that had the Scot transfixed until the final second of delivery. Time and again, Murray did not know which way to move, doubts which tempted him to cut short Nadal's advantage by moving to the net perhaps more often than he might otherwise have chosen to.

While Djokovic prepares to test himself against the man who beat Murray, the Scot has a different battle to fight. In the past he has not handled the disappointment of getting close to the prize and failing. Federer devastated him so completely in the final of the 2010 Australian Open, he reduced him to tears. Djokovic beat him there even more comprehensively this year – and each time he tumbled into an awful slump.

He has done well to recover so brilliantly this year. But he has to keep going. This is just the worst time for self-pity.