Tennis: Nadal, Djokovic to add another chapter to rivalry

NEW YORK (AFP) - Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, set to face each other for the sixth time in a Grand Slam final on Monday at the US Open, will also become the foes with the most Open Era head-to-head meetings.

The culmination of the Flushing Meadows fortnight at Arthur Ashe Stadium will be the 37th career meeting between the rivals, moving past the 36 played by John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl to top the all-time modern rivalries.

"I've played against him a lot of times. Always we played very exciting matches," Nadal said. "When you are involved in these kind of matches, you feel special." Nadal leads the rivalry 21-15 entering their latest showdown on the New York hardcourts, the third trophy matchup in four years between them at the US Open with the Spaniard winning in 2010 to complete a career Grand Slam and Serbia's Djokovic taking the rematch a year later for his first US Open crown.

Adding spice to the latest chapter in the rivalry is that Djokovic remains world number one and will keep that designation regardless of Monday's result while Nadal ranks second but has nine titles and 21 hardcourt wins in a row this year since returning from a seven-month layoff to rest his sore knees.

"It's the biggest challenge you can have in our sport now," Djokovic said of facing Nadal.

"He is the ultimate competitor. He is fighting for every ball and he's playing probably the best tennis that he ever played on hardcourts.

"No doubt he's the best player this year." Djokovic owns a 3-2 edge over Nadal in Grand Slam finals meetings, losing at the 2010 US Open and last year's French Open while winning at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2011 and the 2012 Australian Open, the Melbourne title showdown the only one of those to go to five sets.

"We are playing at very good level, so the match becomes great because we play long rallies, we bring our game to the limit situations and it becomes a very difficult match for both of us," Nadal said.

"And at the end, even if I lost that final in Australia, I feel happy to be involved in that match." It will be their 11th meeting at a Grand Slam event, matching Djokovic and 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer for the most contested rivalries at the majors.

Nadal leads their overall Slam series 7-3, the losses all in finals, just as he leads Federer in Slam meetings by 8-2. Federer is 6-5 in Slams against Djokovic.

"Novak is a great opponent," Nadal said. "There are another ones there, but it's true we already played a lot of important matches for our career, so that makes that confrontation special.

Nadal won their two most recent meetings, in a June five-set semi-final on Roland Garros clay the Spaniard took 9-7 in the fifth set and in a Montreal semi-final last month Nadal took in three sets.

"I need to keep playing very aggressive and play a very good match," Nadal said. "Only like this am I going to have a chance." Overall, Nadal owns a 13-3 edge over Djokovic on clay while Djokovic has an 11-6 career advantage on hardcourts. Nadal has won two of three meetings on grass.

Experience might be a help to Djokovic in Monday's final.

"The way he has been playing he's very confident, but I know how to play him," Djokovic said. "Hardcourt is my most successful surface. I've played him already here twice in the finals. I know what I need to do." While Nadal relishes his rivalry with Djokovic, playing for the title is what will be the most special thing about their latest encounter.

"When you have the chance to win against the most difficult players, it is true that the victory is more special, but not in a final of the US Open," he said.

"The final of the US Open, what really is important is win the tournament, not the opponent."