The current No. 1 vs. the current No. 2. The new No. 1 vs. the new No. 2 (as of Monday's rankings). Australian Open champion pitted against the winner of the French. US Open finals rematch. Ten-time major champion versus two-time major winner. The reigning king against his would-be conquerer, who just happens to be 4-0 against him this season.
Need any more reasons to watch Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic square off in the Wimbledon final on Sunday morning?
The French Open final we were all waiting for turned into the Wimbledon championship bout few were expecting. It's not that Novak Djokovic was a dark horse entering play at the All England Club, but for a guy with a 41-1 record on the season, he wasn't getting much hype as a potential champion. Nadal and six-time winner Roger Federer were the favorites and it was thought that Djokovic's checkered history on grass would send him packing before a final.
He cruised through the early rounds though, holding off a brief challenge from Marcos Baghdatis in the third-round and pushing back another comeback bid from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis.
Nadal was barely pushed in his run to the final. Other than the first 55 minutes of his match against Andy Murray, the two-time Wimbledon champion has yet to be in danger during the fortnight. He carries a 20-match Wimbledon winning streak into the final.
The conditions figure to favor Nadal. He likes the worn grass courts at the end of Wimbledon because they remind him of the clay of Paris. This won't be as big of an advantage as it would have been against Federer or Tsonga. Djokovic slides around the baseline like he's at Roland Garros too, allowing him to play a defensive style that's downright Nadalian.
Nadal has a slight edge at the net, on second serves and in mid-match composure; Djokovic has the four-match winning streak against Rafa and the benefit of tennis youth (he's only one year younger, but his body may as well be four or five). In a one-match setting, that, and all the other intangibles, are almost irrelevant. The benefit of hindsight will allow us to act like the result was predestined: Djokovic was relaxed because he's already clinched No. 1, or he relaxed too much because of it, or he was in Nadal's head, or Nadal finally said "enough." None of that matters. This match will hinge on a few points. A backhand return that clips the line or sails past it or a volley that almost went over the net.
Who's going to win? Can I say the No. 1 player in the world and leave you to guess whether I mean the top-ranked player on Saturday or the top-ranked player on Monday?
Fine. I'll go with Nadal, in a four-set thriller.