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Our Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal Aussie Open prediction: It's going to be a long one

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Djokovic breezes into Australian Open final (1:03)

No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeats Lucas Pouille in straight sets, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2, to advance to face Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final. (1:03)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It will be world No. 1 vs. world No. 2 for the Australian Open title (Sunday, 3:30 a.m. ET on ESPN) when Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal take to Rod Laver Arena on Sunday evening.

Both players have been dominant en route to the final, most notably in the semifinals where Djokovic took apart Lucas Pouille in straight sets, just 24 hours after Nadal had done the same to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

This will mark the eighth time Djokovic and Nadal will meet in a major final. So, how will the match play out? Here are some thoughts on the game and key stats:

Experts' take

How do you see this match?

Ivan Lendl, former world No. 1, two-time Australian Open champion: "Rafa just looks strong, very strong. He has been aggressive, but it's one thing to do it at 6-1, 5-2, and another to do it at 4-4, 30-40, so we will learn much more about it tomorrow. Rafa had big chances in the fifth set in 2012, but if you said to Rafa, 'You can have the same opportunity again,' I think he would like it."

Kim Clijsters, former world No. 1, 2011 Australian Open champion: "I think the tennis Rafa showed against Tsitsipas was incredible. I've seen him focused like this and really intense, but his tennis was incredible. I'm curious to see if now he's playing Novak, he can keep that intensity. They know each other so well , and Novak knows how to take a situation like this. To me it's 50-50. It could go a lot of different ways, but there's not a clear path."

Lindsay Davenport, former world No. 1, 2000 Australian Open champion: "Obviously Rafa, the big push in the offseason seems to be his serve and trying to get it onto the opponents much faster, allowing him to play offense on the second or third shot in the rally. The toughest person to do that against is Novak. He's the best returner. It'll be interesting to see if Rafa does try to do anything differently, try to put more miles per hour on his serve than their last meeting. The way Rafa's played this tournament has been exceptional, but that's not easy to do against Novak. They are both physically fresh, they're both ready to go. I just don't know whether Rafa can play as well as he has against Novak at his level."

Thomas Johansson, 2002 Australian Open champion: "If you look at their results on the way to the final, Rafa has not been tested yet. I think the match between Novak and Medvedev was a very, very high level, so I think that's good for Novak. I think the key shot for Rafa is the forehand down the line, because if he works Novak too much on the backhand side, it's going to be tough for him, but his forehand down the line has been working very well here."

Mats Wilander, former world No. 1, three-time Australian Open champion: "I am interested to see if Rafa, for once, doesn't play a final where he first finds out if he can wear them down, and if he can't, then trying to beat him with great shots. If he risks it, then there's always the risk of not playing well, then you're down a set and a break and then, you go back to trying to wear him down. This time I think it's going to be Novak who has to stay there and react to what Rafa is doing, which is a complete turn of events."

Does Novak have a slight mental edge over Rafa?

Lendl: "Let's put it this way, I would say that every top player, when I played and now, believes that if they play their best they're going to win."

Clijsters: "Yeah, I think so. I think Novak's found a way to compete against Rafa, to be patient, defend well but be aggressive at the same time. I think he's really good at kind of taking over when he's on the defensive side of a situation. He can take over really well. To me, it will be impressive to see."

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1:06

Nadal advances to Australian Open final for the 5th time

Rafael Nadal cruises by Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets (6-2, 6-4, 6-0) to advance to the final of the 2019 Australian Open.

Davenport: "It seems like it. If Novak wins this he's going to go for the [non-calendar year] Slam again. I think he is always trying to set himself apart from the other two, and he hasn't been able to do it with total Grand Slams won. Obviously holding all four did kind of set him apart. Can he do it again? Can he do it twice? It's kind of crazy, considering where he was last year. He comes in now with this fire and passion."

Johansson: "Yes, a little bit maybe, but these two guys are two of the biggest and best players in the history of our sport, I think they don't think like that. I think they think it's a new match, it's a new day, new opportunities. I think it's going to be a very high-level match. I think they might go the whole way and that's what the crowd would like to see."

Wilander: "It's the same as what happened here in 2017, in a way. Roger had to do something different, now Rafa has to do something. If he serves the way he can, I believe he can win but then watching Novak the last couple of rounds, no one defends like he does. I think this is a match that's at a different level from what they've ever played. Much better."

Prediction

Lendl: "Hopefully a good match. I really don't know."

Clijsters: "I would say a long match, but 50-50. If they both play their best tennis, it's going to be long."

Davenport: "I think it will for sure be five sets. It's impossible to pick, they're both playing amazing, they both want this more than anything. Seems like the matchup favors Novak. With his backhand he can handle the Rafa forehand, but Rafa's played amazing here."

Johansson: "I picked Novak before the tournament, and I'm going to stick with him. Novak in four sets."

Wilander: "I know it's 55-45 [with the bookmakers, in Djokovic's favor]. I'd say that's true. I'd be more surprised if Rafa is able to pull it out in the end, because I don't know if it's possible for him to play his best against Novak."

Let's look at the numbers

Why Djokovic has the advantage

  • Has won all six Australian Open finals he has played in (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016).

  • Of the 25 matches the pair have played on a hard court, Djokovic has won 18.

  • As a No. 1 seed at the Australian Open, he has a record of 35 wins, zero losses.

  • Nadal has lost three of his four Australian Open finals.

Why Nadal has the advantage

  • Has won the last three Grand Slam finals the pair have contested.

  • Is playing in his 25th major final. Only Roger Federer (30) has played in more.

  • Only player who has not dropped a set in this tournament, winning all 18 played thus far. Djokovic has dropped two sets.

  • Since the beginning of 2017, no men's player has been in more Grand Slam finals (five, including 2019 Australian Open).

What the players are saying