In 2012, it was Djokovic who finally came out on top after five sets, and five hours and 53 minutes, making it the longest grand slam final in history.
Both men have spent only just over double that time on court in their six matches so far this fortnight, but it has been Nadal’s uncharacteristic efficiency that has really caught the eye.
The foundation is a remodelled serve that he and his team honed during the final months of last season when he was sidelined through injury.
“Today I have to adapt my game to the new time and to my age,” said Nadal. “I know during 15, 16, 17 years of tennis, I’m going to lose things on my way, so I need to add new things.
“That’s what I tried to do during all my career, to improve the things that I can improve.”
The new serve has allowed Nadal to pounce on opponents from the start of a rally and he has been ruthless. The Spaniard leads the tournament in terms of service games won and has not been broken since his first-round victory over James Duckworth.
Coach Carlos Moya, who replaced Toni Nadal at the start of last season, has been the main driving force behind the changes, with the former world number one seeing them as essential to prolong his countryman’s career.
Moya said: “Since the first day I came on board, my main goal was to convince him that he could play more aggressive.
“I’ve been watching the match they played here (in 2012), six hours. I think he has to avoid that. Not only for the final but also what it takes to recover from that and the risk of injury.
“We know to play short points against Novak is not easy, because he’s one of the best movers on the tour and one of the best returners, but to me (Nadal) has the weapons to make the points shorter.”
Nadal and Djokovic have played each other more times than any two men in the Open era, with Sunday their 53rd tour-level meeting.
Djokovic leads 27-25 overall but on hard courts the statistics are even more in the Serbian’s favour. Nadal has lost eight straight matches dating back to the US Open final in 2013, while he also lost their last meeting, another titanic scrap in the Wimbledon semi-finals last summer.
“Obviously it’s the most challenging match he can have,” said Moya. “Mentally he has an edge when he plays any player, but not with Novak.
“I think these kind of matches come down to three or four points, like happened in Wimbledon. That day, most of these important points went Novak’s side. Here, if some of those points go our side, I believe (Nadal) will have the chance to win.”
.@DjokerNole on @RafaelNadal: "Nadal has historically throughout my life and career been the greatest rival that I ever played against on all the surfaces."— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2019
🍿 at the ready.#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/EUQ0HvSmtA
Nadal’s form has not gone unnoticed by Djokovic, who said: “He has improved his serve. I see he has a slightly different service motion that has worked very well.
“With everything he possesses, all the qualities in his game, adding to that also a lot of free points on the serve makes him much tougher to play against.
“At the same time, it’s quite different playing against me, me against him. I think it adds more pressure on his serve and my serve, as well, because we return well. We’ve been playing well. It’s going to be interesting.”
History will be on the line, with Djokovic looking to become the first man to win seven Australian Open titles and Nadal the first in the Open era, and only the third in history, to win all four slams at least twice.
But for the two men, the battle of wills, strokes, lungs and heart appears to matter more than anything.
“We push each other to the limit of our tennis level,” said Nadal. “I found solutions against Novak during all my career, and he found solutions against me.
“It’s always about moments. In his best moments, he’s so difficult to beat. In my best moments, I have been a tough opponent, too.”
Rafael Nadal ended the Australian Open run of exciting young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in brutal fashion to reach his 25th grand slam final.
Tsitsipas was looking to become only the third man after Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic to beat both Roger Federer and Nadal at the same slam but was firmly put in his place as the Spaniard swept to a 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 victory in just an hour and 46 minutes.
Nadal will take on either Djokovic or Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who play their semi-final on Friday, in the title decider on Sunday.
Nadal, for whom this will be a fifth Australian Open final, arrived in Melbourne having not played a competitive match since the US Open because of a variety of injury issues, and he said: “It has been a great match, great tournament.
“I think I played very well every day. After a lot of months without playing, this court and this crowd have given me this unbelievable energy.
Rafael Nadal hasn't dropped a set yet this #ausopen.— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 24, 2019
He dropped serve twice, saving 14/16 break points he faced.
He has won 81% of his first-serve points.
He is averaging 32.8 winners per match.
His longest match was R3 v De Minaur, 2hr 22min pic.twitter.com/E2XadJtfQo
“To start the season like this when a few weeks ago when I was in Brisbane, having to take a very tough decision not to play there. In that moment it was difficult for me to imagine where I am today. Since the tournament started I’ve felt really, really well.”
On Tsitsipas, Nadal said: “He has everything to become a multi grand slam champion. When at this age he is already in the semi-finals, it says a lot of good things about him.”
Tsitsipas’ run and the flair with which he has played has been one of the stories of the tournament, and Melbourne’s large Greek community were once again out in force to support their man.
But opportunities to wave the blue and white flag were scarce, with Nadal getting off to a fast start and keep his foot pressed firmly down.
The Spaniard usually reserves this type of bulldozing performance through a draw for the French Open but he has barely put a foot wrong since arriving in Melbourne and this was the best performance of the lot.
Tsitsipas looked like he might have achieved a foothold when he recovered from 0-40 at 2-2 in the second set to hold serve with some fine attacking play.
It takes courage to continue to push forward against Nadal but the Greek’s defences were breached again as the second seed broke for 5-4 before serving it out.
By the third set, Tsitsipas’ belief that he could hit winning shots against his fearsome opponent had drained away and the end came swiftly.
Nadal will now look to win his second title at Melbourne Park 10 years after his first. The 32-year-old has made the final three more times but lost once each to Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and, in an epic battle two years ago, Federer.
If he wins on Sunday, he will achieve something neither Federer nor Djokovic have managed by winning each slam title at least twice.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Naomi Osaka kept her hopes of winning back-to-back grand slam titles alive by dispatching Serena Williams’ conqueror Karolina Pliskova to reach the Australian Open final.
Osaka produced a brutal display of power hitting under the roof on Rod Laver Arena, striking 56 winners in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory and will face Petra Kvitova on Saturday.
The 21-year-old’s achievement makes her the first women to back up a first slam title by making the final of the next major tournament since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.
As well as the title, the world number one ranking will also be on the line on Saturday, with Kvitova and Osaka both looking to get there for the first time.
Capriati followed her maiden title in Australia 18 years ago by winning the French Open and, if Osaka can maintain the form she showed in this match, then there is no reason why she cannot emulate that.
Having survived tough battles against the unconventional pair of Hsieh Su-wei and Anastasija Sevastova earlier in the tournament, Osaka certainly looked more comfortable taking on a fellow ball-basher.
And bash the ball she did, repeatedly into the corners, off both forehand and backhand, to win the first set.
Osaka had won her previous 58 matches after winning the first set but – following her remarkable comeback to beat Williams – Pliskova would have known that no cause was impossible.
Osaka broke serve again at the start of the second set but then gave it straight back with a poor game and slowly the momentum began to shift, the two women trading fiercer and fiercer blows.
Osaka produced some fine play to hold off her opponent at 3-4 but two games later Pliskova broke to love to take the match to a decider.
The 26-year-old, who reached her only slam final at the US Open in 2016, looked to continue her momentum at the start of the decider but Osaka saved three break points before playing a tremendous return game to move 2-1 ahead.
Pliskova had one chance to get back on level terms in the eighth game but Osaka served an ace, and then another one – given by HawkEye – to clinch the victory.
Provided by Press Association Sport