Ha ha. No, I’m not going to parade a bunch of statistics before your eyes and say: “therefore, . . . ” That’s not usually what we do. We’ll make some references, push a superficial tennis sabermetrics alongside our more interesting analysis, but I leave the numbers galleries to the tongue-tied stat boy and stat girls.
The numbers were interested in are 17 and 14.
Remember in the 2017 AO final where Federer was at 17 majors and Rafa at 14?
Interesting that we find these same numbers at a similar sort of historical rubric for two all-time greats.
If Nadal, who even had a break in the fifth set in 2017 against Federer, had won that match, we would have turned to Roland Garros with Nadal at 15 and Federer still hanging-onto 17.
Nadal had 16 practically in the bag at that point with no Djokovic to contend with on the clay.
The point is that the 2017 AO seemed almost pivotal in that rivalry, Federer getting to 18, brimming with confidence, slapping Nadal around on the spring hard courts, winning Wimbledon 2017 (after Nadal’s decima) and heading into the summer 19-15.
Of course, Nadal has won two more since, Federer one. We’re at 20-17 in that rivalry, in terms of majors, which, granted, is not the definitive stroke with such comparisons.
This 2019 AO final has a similar stroke of consequence. If Djokovic wins, he moves to 15, within two of his BFF with a showdown in Paris looming in May. We know this would also continue the return to dominance of Djokovic, both of the tour and of Nadal.
15-17 would be quite ominous for the Spanish elder statesman. Just as Federer faced his nemesis in this tournament’s final in 2017 with the prospect of feeling his younger rival press even further into his legacy, the same is true now of Nadal, facing his younger rival.
If Nadal wins, sure he moves closer to Federer, which has all sorts of ramifications, but he puts some distance between him and Djokovic. Despite the fact that Novak seems primed to win at least a few more majors (three maybe four or five), he does have quite the opportunity here tonight to kill two birds with one stone: add to his total and prevent Nadal from adding to his. Getting that rivalry to 15-17 with the three more majors to play in 2019 would have Djokovic looking very very good.
Conversely, a win by Nadal tips the scale his direction, seemingly quite a bit: 18-14.
I find this “big picture” kind of stuff pretty interesting. And the parallels between AO ’17 and AO ’19 fit the bill here.
In the end, I have to admit: Nadal seems to have paid some dues though certainly not with is draws; I find some of his major draws utterly bafflingly soft.
But he seems to have paid some dues, going back to AO’12, AO’14 and ’17 and even that SF WB ’18 with that epic loss to Novak. Seriously, he seems due to win one of these things.
Moreover, he’s 3-12 v Djokovic in their last 15 and two of those, last spring in SFs in Madrid and Rome, were when Novak was still in the fetal position.
He’s come to Melbourne clearly on a mission that may transcend just wanting to win this championship. Maybe he’s just sick of losing some of these epic battles.
However, I would add that he’s often the inferior player in these contests. He’s the better fighter (Novak would disagree with me here and I would naturally concede to Novak 😉 but not the better player.
Novak should take this match tonight. That’s just the way this should go. Mentally and skillfully, he’s stronger.
But given Nadal’s form and the strange historical winds that blow in big, pivotal matches like this, among these tennis greats, in this insane golden age of tennis, we never fully know until they play.
Here are some numbers if you really want those kinds of numbers.