The top two players on the ATP tour will meet for the fifth time this year in the final of the China Open on Sunday evening. While Novak Djokovic has already surrendered his No. 1 ranking when the Spaniard reached the final, Novak needs to defend his title in China in order to remain competitive with Rafael Nadal for the remainder of the season heading into the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Check out the Nadal vs Djokovic Head to Head.
Nadal returned to the No. 1 spot with a walkover win over Tomas Berdych in the semi-finals, who suffered a back injury in the first set, to bring their head-to-head record to 16-3 in favour of the Spaniard. It may not have been the exciting, action-packed match that many anticipated yet it achieved the same results, with the Spaniard now atop the world rankings no matter the result in Sunday’s final. It also extended his current win streak to 21-0 and if he beats the defending champion in the final, it will be his first title in China since his debut season in 2005.
Rafa’s semifinal win over Berdych extended his undefeated hard court streak in 2013 to 26-0 and is 10-2 in ATP finals this year. He is the only player to hold two separate Grand Slam singles titles this year, having won the US and French Opens to add to his ranking points on top of his record 5-Masters 1000 titles. Regaining the No. 1 spot is certainly the culmination of an historic season that will be remembered as one of the greatest comeback ever achieved in professional tennis.
This is the first time Rafa has regained the top spot since 2010. If he finishes the year as No. 1, he will become the first player to finish as year-end No. 1 three years after losing the ranking. Ivan Lendl and Roger Federer both recaptured the year-end top ranking in 1989 and 2009 respectively, after a gap of two years.
Djokovic’s only competitive match this tournament was a second round contest against Fernando Verdasco, where he was forced to win the match in a deciding third set. It was his only match this week that went into the third set as Novak breezed past Sam Querrey and Richard Gasquet in the semi-finals to make his sixth final of the season. He is undefeated in China with an 18-0 record and is bidding to win the title for a fourth time. The Serb is 3-2 in finals this year, including a 1-2 record in Grand Slams this year (w. Australian Open, l. US Open and Wimbledon) and has not won a title since defeating Nadal at Monte Carlo earlier in the year.
The top two seeds will meet for the 38th time on the tour on Sunday and while Nadal leads the Head-to-Head between the two (22-15), Djokovic is 11-7 on hard courts against the 27-year-old and is most comfortable on that surface as it is the one most suited for his game. While this may have been the case, Nadal holds two hard court wins over Djokovic this year, partially due to the changes in his playing style, where he is more aggressive now, has a bigger serve and rushes the net on more occasions. In their last encounter in the US Open final, Rafa controlled the majority of the match-up and confused Novak with his altered approach on the court. If the Serb has not figured out a counter attack, he may be in for a rough night on Sunday.