Novak Djokovic, left, is aiming for his sixth Grand Slam while opponent… (Emmanuel Dunand and Clive…)
NEW YORK — Much has been made about the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, especially since they've never played at the U.S. Open.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the top two seeded men at the Open, will play at 2 p.m. Monday for the championship.
They've faced each other 36 times, and the stakes almost always are high.
Nadal, the 27-year-old Spaniard, will be aiming for his 13th major title. Djokovic, 26, from Serbia, is seeking his sixth. It is Djokovic's fourth straight appearance in the Open final, and fifth overall. Nadal, who missed the tournament last year because of a knee injury, is in his third Open final.
Each has won this tournament once — Nadal in 2010, when he beat Djokovic in the final; Djokovic in 2011, when he beat Nadal in the final.
"When you are involved in these kind of matches, Nadal said, "you feel so special."
Djokovic professes equal respect for Nadal.
"It's always the biggest challenge that you can have in our sport," Djokovic said. "He's the ultimate competitor out there. He's fighting for every ball and he's probably playing the best tennis he has ever played on hard courts.
No matter what the computer numbers say, there is a sense the winner will be the player of the year. Djokovic won the season's first major, the Australian Open. Nadal won the second, the French Open. Andy Murray won Wimbledon. The winner Monday will have two Grand Slams for the year.
While Nadal leads the overall series 21-15, Djokovic is ahead on hard courts, 11-6. But Nadal has a 21-match winning streak on the surface this summer.
For the first time, the Open is purposely playing the men's final on Monday night because players had complained often about lack of rest between the semifinals on Saturday and final on Sunday. For Djokovic, who was severely tested in his five-set semifinal win over Stanislas Wawrinka, the extra day off was appreciated.
Djokovic played a 4-hour 43-minute semifinal at Wimbledon, beating Juan Martin del Potro in five sets. Then he lost in straight sets in the final to Murray, who played four sets in the semis.
Djokovic said he had gotten his energy back Sunday and expects to be ready Monday. "I'll feel fine," he said.
"Hard court is my most successful surface," Djokovic said. "This is where I can say I feel most comfortable and confident. Hopefully I can perform better than I did in the Wimbledon final."
Djokovic may love the hard surfaces but Nadal is unbeaten on them this year.
"Rafa's lost three matches this year," Djokovic said. "With no doubt, he's the best player in the moment this year, no question about it."