The next chapter of the epic rivalry between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will be written in Melbourne on Sunday, with both men looking to set records in the final of the Australian Open.
Nadal’s would arguably be the more impressive – he would become the only man in the Open era to win each grand slam at least twice.
That is largely because his domination of the clay courts at the French Open means that even Roger Federer, with his record 20 grand slam titles, has won only once in Paris.
Should the Spanish second seed take the Australian Open trophy, which he has lifted just once, in 2009, despite playing in four finals, he will also have 18 grand slam titles in total.
Given the 32-year-old is five years younger that Federer it is not unlikely he could eventually claim the Swiss’ crown as holder of the most major titles.
Though there had been doubts about the Nadal’s fitness – he had not played a tournament since the US Open and pulled out of the Brisbane warm-up tournament with a thigh injury – he has looked on devastating form in Melbourne.
He has won all his matches in straight sets and demolished Stefanos Tsitsipas – regarded by many as a future champion – in the semi-finals.
“Is normal that … you have doubts about me, because I have doubts about me,” Nadal told reporters after his victory over Tsitsipas.
“I really understand 100 per cent because I have the same doubts. Is true that if that happens 10 years ago probably will be a much more difficult situation for me because I needed always to be on rhythm, to play good tennis …
“I believe that when you are older, you lose less the tennis when you are playing less. You don’t need that many matches to play well. That’s something that happened for the last two years for me.”
Speaking before the semi-final between Djokovic and Lucas Pouille had been decided, he refused to speculate on what the final might hold.
“I have to keep doing the things that I am doing. That’s my feeling, just keep playing the way that I am playing and let’s see. That’s my goal.”
But Djokovic, who has only dropped two sets on his way to the final, is still the clear favourite.
He rebounded last year from a long period of injury to win both Wimbledon and the US Open, and will be looking to claim a record seventh Australian Open title and 15th major title.
Djokovic has never lost a Melbourne final and also has the slight edge over Nadal in their head-to-head record, leading the Spaniard by 27-25.
Though most of Nadal’s victories came in the first half of their rivalry and the Serb’s in the second, the pair were evenly matched last year. Djokovic prevailed in their Wimbledon semi-final while Nadal won out in Rome.
One of their best matches was played in the 2012 final in Melbourne. At five hours and 53 minutes, it was the longest grand slam final ever played and eventually ended in victory for the Serb.
“Nadal has historically throughout my career been my greatest rival that I ever played against,” Djokovic told reporters after defeating Pouille.
“Some matches that we had against each other were a great turning points in my career. I feel they have made me rethink my game …
“Those kind of encounters have also made me the player I am today, without a doubt. These are the kind of matches that you live for, finals of slams, playing the greatest rivals at their best.
“What more can you ask for?”