They’re still in their 20s, yet their rivalry is already one of the most heralded in men’s tennis history.
Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic has become a classic.
The pair met for the first time at tour level seven years ago and, when they go head-to-head in the final of the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals on Monday, it will be for the 39th time.
The Spaniard and the Serb have been dominant this season, with Nadal replacing Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking last month on the back of a stunning comeback from a career-threatening knee injury.
“Whenever we play each other, it’s a huge challenge,” the 26-year-old Djokovic said. “This is the probably the most competitive tournament that we have after Grand Slams in our sport, and we both want to crown this season in the best possible way and end it with a title.”
On a winning streak
Djokovic extended his winning streak to 21 matches since losing in the US Open final to Nadal when he beat Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals. Nadal had earlier dispatched his old rival Roger Federer in straight sets.
The world’s two highest-ranked players are unbeaten this week and have faced each other five times this season, with Nadal leading the 2013 meetings 3-2.
After losing a set in each of his three previous matches, Djokovic raised his game on Sunday, making only 14 unforced errors as he broke Wawrinka four times.
“The performance was definitely by far the best I’ve had in the tournament,” said Djokovic, who is bidding for a third title at the elite, season-ending event and has been the best player of the indoor season.
Nadal leads Djokovic 22-16 in their career head-to-head record, although he lost their previous encounter last month in Beijing soon after regaining the top ranking.
“After the US Open final, I haven’t lost a match,” Djokovic said. “I’m trying to take a lot of positive energy out of this confidence and out of this run. 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.”