Bryan Armen Graham
Sunday September 12th, 2010

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic (left) and Rafael Nadal (right) played doubles together last month at the Rogers Cup. (AP)

 

Rafael Nadal faces Novak Djokovic in Sunday's Monday's U.S. Open men's final. Here are 10 things you need to know about a matchup few anticipated (updated through Monday morning):

Nadal can join the pantheon of all-time greats.

The Majorcan southpaw, in the U.S. Open final for the first time, can guarantee his place among the all-time top 10 of men's tennis with a victory -- and make a compelling case for top five. He'd become just the seventh man in history (and the second-youngest) to capture each of the sport's four major tournaments and complete the career Grand Slam. (And just the third to do it on three different surfaces after Andre Agassi and Roger Federer.) As the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion, he'd be the fourth man in the Open Era to win three consecutive majors after Rod Laver, Pete Sampras and Federer. "Already he's one of the best ever because he has won the Olympic gold medal, he has won Davis Cup, he has won every major except this one, and so many tournaments," Djokovic said Saturday, "and he's still only 24 years old."

The final is officially a matchup between No. 1 and No. 2.

Djokovic entered the tournament ranked No. 3, but the Serb's semifinal victory over Federer ensured a climb to No. 2 in Monday's rankings. That means today's match is the first U.S. Open men's final between the world's top two ranked players since Sampras defeated Agassi in 1995.

History and current form favor Nadal ...

Nadal holds a 14-7 edge in the head-to-head series (though each of Djokovic's seven victories have come on hard courts). Lately, Nadal's serve has been as formidable as we've ever seen it -- clocking in the high-120's with 84 percent of first-serve points won -- and he's dropped serve just twice in 91 service games over the fortnight. He's looking to extend a 20-match winning streak in majors.

... but Mother Nature favored Djokovic.

Rafa needed just 2 hours and 13 minutes to dispense of Mikhail Youzhny in Saturday's first semifinal, while Djokovic had less than 20 hours to recover from a grueling 3-hour, 44-minute marathon victory over Federer -- thanks to the Super Saturday format bemoaned here by Bruce Jenkins.  But Sunday's postponement of the final -- the first significant rain delay of the fortnight -- was a major break for Djokovic. (He'd certainly been hoping for it: "I don't know the rituals of how to invite the rain, but an extra day would be great, actually," Djokovic said Saturday.) The extra recovery time undercuts whatever advantage Nadal might have earned from getting off the court so quickly -- and the Vegas odds on a Nadal victory have been slashed accordingly.

Djokovic can shed "third man" status.

Nadal and Federer combined to win 17 of the 18 major tournaments from the '05 French through '09 Wimbledon. The lone outlier? Djokovic, who won his first and only Grand Slam title at the '08 Australian. Nole had settled into a supporting role behind the two most dominant players of this generation, slipping to 2-6 in major semifinals entering Saturday's match (with a current streak of four straight losses). But after saving a pair of match points to knock off Federer and rallying to win, Djokovic is confident about escaping from the shadows of the Big Two. "I don't think I've done bad last three or four years," Djokovic said. "[But] I'm competing in an era of two, you know, great greats, two players winning most of the majors.  It's not easy, if you know what I mean." Crossover stardom may be closer than he thinks. For a span near the climax of Saturday's semifinal classic, Novak Djokovic was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter both worldwide and in the United States ... on a college football Saturday.

They played doubles together just last month.

Nadal and Djokovic formed a tennis "Dream Team" at last month's Rogers Cup in Toronto, joining up for the men's doubles competition. It marked the first time in 34 years -- since Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe in 1976 -- the top two players in the ATP rankings played doubles together. The experiment wasn't exactly a smash, however: Nadal and Djokovic lost 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 to Canadian wild-card entrants Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic.

The ATP has already divined today's winner.

A just-recently-corrected snafu on the ATP's website listed Djokovic as the winner of today's final when you pulled up the Serb's head-to-head record against Nadal.

Don't rule out another postponement -- and a Tuesday final.

NY1 morning anchor Pat Kiernan says the USTA "couldn't have picked a worse time" to reschedule the final. "There’s a cold front coming tonight that may trigger some showers late in the day," Kiernan wrote on Tuesday morning, citing a report from NY1's meteorologist. "The threat of showers looks like it will pick up at 4 pm, which is exactly when the rain-delayed tennis match is supposed to begin. There’s no guarantee of rain at 4 pm. But a 1 pm start would have been a lot safer."

Roger Federer won't be watching.

"It's great for tennis and it's great for him at the young age," said Federer of Nadal's shot at history. "I won't watch, but I hope he wins." Wait, what? Does Federer, who will drop to No. 3 in Monday's rankings, really have no interest in who wins between No. 1 and No. 2 at the tournament he owned from 2004-08? "Look, I've been around tennis for weeks and weeks and weeks right now. Last thing I want to do is watch another tennis match where I'm not a part of," he said. "I will spend some time with my kids and take it easy, maybe go shopping."

Stuck at work? Follow the match here. SI.com will carry a live stream of the match at 4 p.m. ET, while SI.com's Richard Deitsch live-blogs the action from the National Tennis Center.

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