NEW YORK : Rafael Nadal must overturn a five-match losing streak against Novak Djokovic this year if he is to successfully defend his US Open title and clinch an 11th career Grand Slam title.
Nadal confronts the toughest challenge in men’s tennis on Monday when he tries to derail the red-hot Serb’s campaign to add a first US Open to the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles he has already captured in his landmark year.
It’s been a season which has seen Djokovic win 63 of his 65 matches, take Nadal’s world number one spot, collect two of the three majors so far played and secure five of six Masters.
Nadal has suffered most at the hands of Djokovic, losing in the finals of Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Madrid and Wimbledon.
But the Spaniard, who became the youngest man to complete a career Grand Slam when he won a first US Open crown 12 months ago, believes his major battle will be convincing himself he can triumph on Monday.
“I am not very happy about my mental performance against him this year because for moments I didn’t believe really 100 percent in victory,” said Nadal, who will be playing in his 14th Grand Slam final.
“That’s the big problem. Because when that’s happening, you have fewer chances than if you believe. If you believe, you are running more and you are putting one more ball inside. So that’s what I’m going try to change for Monday.”
Nadal reached the final with a bruising 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 win over British fourth seed Andy Murray while Djokovic made it to his sixth career Grand Slam final, with a 6-7 (7/9), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 win over five-time champion Roger Federer.
In a repeat of his semi-final heroics of 2010, the Serb once again saved two match points to beat Federer.
Nadal said he is ready to slug it out with Djokovic who could be forgiven for thinking the tennis gods are on his side this year when he unleashed an outrageous forehand return to save the first of those points.
But he will need to unleash a relentless barrage.
“I have to do it not one time. I have to do it 1000 times during the match. That’s what I really have to do, and that’s what I’m going to try,” he said.
Despite his procession of defeats against Djokovic in 2011, Nadal still holds the upper hand with a 16-12 winning record.
The Serb is riding a wave of confidence into the final which will be the fourth successive year the men’s title match has been pushed back to Monday because of heavy rain washing away large parts of the schedule.
“This is the best year of my career, by far. The confidence level that is very high at this moment for me helps me to get into these big matches and go for the shots that I maybe in some situations wouldn’t,” said Djokovic.
“But it’s all a process of learning and getting experience and maturing as a player, as a person.”
Despite his great escape against Federer, the top seed believes there is little he needs to tweak ahead of Monday’s eagerly-awaited showdown, a repeat of the 2010 final and this year’s Wimbledon final.
“Just try to play my game,” is the Serb’s philosophy. “I know that I have a game that is good enough to win against him. I proved that this year on three different surfaces.
“I need to go out on the court believing I can win. But we’re talking about a player who has won 10 majors already in his career and he’s only 25. It’s going to be a tough match.”