Men’s final | Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic (2:30 p.m. Sunday, ESPN)

Another chapter in Nadal-Djokovic rivalry to go into the books at Sony Open

 
 
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Showdown in Key Biscayne:</span> Novak Djokovic, left, will face Rafael Nadal in a final for the 20th time, with Nadal bringing home the trophy 11 times. They have met 39 times overall, and Nadal, from Spain, holds a 22-17 record against his rival from Serbia.
Showdown in Key Biscayne: Novak Djokovic, left, will face Rafael Nadal in a final for the 20th time, with Nadal bringing home the trophy 11 times. They have met 39 times overall, and Nadal, from Spain, holds a 22-17 record against his rival from Serbia.
ANDREW ULOZA / FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Special to the Miami Herald

When it comes to the intense desire to win, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are definitely on the same page, as fans will see when they play for the Sony Open title on Sunday.

And there’s no denying that playing against each other brings out the best in the top-ranked Nadal and second-ranked Djokovic.

The rivals will be playing for the 40th time overall and in the 20th final. Nadal has been the better man with a 22-17 record head-to-head, and in their final encounters the Spaniard has won 11 times over Djokovic.

Interestingly, the rivalry between the two is the most frequent in the Open Era. The second most frequent was between Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe — of their 36 meetings, Lendl held a 21-15 advantage.

Despite the statistics, Nadal is under no illusion that he’s a shoo-in to be carting the Sony trophy home to Mallorca. In fact, he has lost all three Miami finals he has previously played.

“Only chance to win against Novak is to play to the limit, play my best, and wait [to see] that he’s not going to have his best day,” Nadal said.

“I’ll need to be aggressive, no doubt about it.”

It’s worth noting that they have met once before in the Miami final, in 2011, the year in which the Serbian reigned over Nadal in all six matches they played. In all, Djokovic has won the Miami tournament three times in his career.

As is typical of the top players, it comes as no surprise that Djokovic, thinking ahead to the possibilities of a final, has been keeping a careful eye on Nadal.

“I have seen a couple of matches of Rafa’s,” Djokovic said. “He’s hitting the ball really well, feeling confident on this court.

“He’s never won this tournament, so I think that is an extra motivation for him.”

Nadal, who won the Doha, Qatar, and Rio de Janeiro tournaments this year, knows that Djokovic arrived in Miami having won his first trophy of the season at Indian Wells, Calif. In fact, if Djokovic is successful Sunday, it would be the second time in his career he was able to win back-to-back Indian Wells and Miami titles — he also performed the feat in 2011.

But none of that history will matter once they step onto the court. It will be a new day — and a first match in a new year — for their rivalry.

And there’s no denying that Nadal would like to change the luck of the Spanish at this tournament. He’s one of four Iberian natives to reach the final here — David Ferrer, Carlos Moya and Sergi Bruguera are the others — and there’s not a winner among them.

“I want to win every week,” Nadal said. “But I’m not going to win every week — that’s the real thing. When I go on court, when I start in the tournament, I always have the motivation, the passion, and the love for tournament that I’m playing.

“For sure, Miami is a very important tournament that I never had the chance to win in the past. To be able to play four finals in one tournament is because you did well and I going to try to be ready for Sunday.”

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