Patrick Mouratoglou is a world-renowned tennis coach. He is an occasional contributor to Busted Racquet.
The 2012 Australian Open final features the ATP's new classic rivalry, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Last year, they played in six finals and Djokovic won all six, a surprising failure for the Spaniard, who is unused to failing.
This final is of tremendous importance for Rafa. His mind is troubled by Nole and it's frustrating him. I'm convinced that if it continues tonight, Nadal could lose the things that have made him such a great champion: belief, desire, determination and passion. For a player who has won everything and is used to overcoming obstacles, this is a new, traumatizing experience. This needs to be solved quickly, so Nadal can prove to himself that he can remain the master of the game.
Why is Rafa struggling against Nole? His serve, and especially his second serve, lack depth and power. Djokovic is the player who owns the best returning stats on second serve. When most of the players don't take advantage of Nadal shortening shots, the Serbian is outstanding in the way he steps inside the court to take the ball early. When attacked, Nadal plays even shorter.
He's hitting 70 percent of first serves since the start of the tournament, whereas he was at 57 percent last year during his matches against Novak. Caring about protecting himself from the attacks on his second serve, he picks the first-second serve option. The only issue is that his best serve, the slice used on deuce and ad, is going directly on Nole's best shot, the backhand.
Even though Nadal had one more day off, Novak has always proved to be fresher in their fights. I give a little advantage to the Serbian on this side, despite his five-hour match against Andy Murray.
Nadal added some heft to his racquet in order to change his swing weight (from 308 to 314) so he can get more power and more length. He wants to make the Serbian move backward and to be more decisive on attacking balls so Djokovic can't turn defense into offense.
In terms of game plan, Rafa has to stop avoiding the diagonal with his backhand on Nole's forehand. Indeed, it's when he changes of diagonal that he gets punished by the Serbian. He has to make Novak go back in order to use his forehand to dictate the game. Will he do it? I think so. Personally, I'm convinced that Djokovic will play a great match, like each time against Nadal. Yet, this time Rafa is ready to achieve his new plan.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal
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