Serbia's Novak Djokovic can seal his fourth Grand Slam in five and stamp his authority on the new tennis season, but blocking his way to the Australian Open title is a revenge-hungry Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic replaced Nadal as World No. 1 after he beat him in last year's Wimbledon final, and he defeated the Spaniard again in the U.S. Open decider as he took the season by storm.
Those two victories were among six consecutive wins over Nadal — all in finals — during one of the greatest campaigns in tennis history which included the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S Open titles.
The defending champion, who reached the final in Melbourne after five gruelling sets against Britain's Andy Murray late on Friday, is expecting another tough, physical battle against second-seeded Nadal.
“I think that's going to be crucial, you know, for me to recover and to be able to perform my best, because Rafa is fit. He's been playing well. He had an extra day. He definitely wants to win this title,” Djokovic said.
The 24-year-old, chasing his third Australian Open title after wins in 2008 and 2011, and his fifth Grand Slam overall, admits he may have an advantage over the 10-time Major winner after his stunning record against him last year. “I maybe have a mental edge because I've won six finals last year and I've had lots of success against him,” he said.
“On the other hand, it's a new year. It's a new challenge. It's a different situation. As I said, he has maybe a day advantage over me for recovery.”
Djokovic described Nadal's comeback from a set down to beat Roger Federer in his semifinal as an “incredible effort”. The Spaniard wore down the Swiss after losing the first set to once again prove his Grand Slam nemesis.
“That's why he's a champion. That's why he's one of the best players to ever play this game. He's never giving up. He has a fighting spirit. He has very few weaknesses,” said the top seed.
Nadal, 25, suffered severe pains in his troublesome right knee on the eve of the tournament but after frantic treatment he recovered and he has impressed in Melbourne, particularly in his win over Federer.
The Spaniard, who won the Australian Open title in 2009, said he was happy to be playing in his fourth Grand Slam final in a row but admitted Djokovic was the favourite.
“The opponent at the end is the best player in the world today, so that's why I played the last few finals against him,” Nadal said.
“So it will always be a really tough match for me. He is the favourite after being number one in the world and after playing fantastic and beating me the last six times. So I'm just happy to be there. “For me, the tournament is really, really good. Right now I'm going to try to play my best tennis and fight for every ball knowing that it's going to be a tough one.”
Djokovic can become only the fifth man to win three straight Grand Slam titles, while Nadal can match Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver with his 11th major win.