By Mario Sarmento
In a rare occurrence, the men’s and women’s singles finals at the Sony Open Tennis tournament will feature the top two players in the world facing each other.
In the women’s final, No. 1 Serena Williams plays No. 2 Li Na at 1 p.m. Saturday on Stadium Court. Sunday, it’s the men’s turn, as No. 1 Rafael Nadal faces No. 2 Novak Djokovic at 2:30 p.m.
Nadal and Djokovic have a long history together. The Spaniard holds a 22-17 lead, and has had the better of it of late, winning 14 of the last 18 meetings, including two semifinal battles at Roland Garros and one in Wimbledon.
But in 2011 alone, Djokovic beat Nadal seven straight times, including the finals at the Sony Open, the Australian Open, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. “I lost all the finals because Novak was in better shape than me, was a better player than me during this period of time,” Nadal said. “And that seven straight losses probably motivated me to find solutions, to play more aggressive, to try to be a better player again.”
Nadal is bidding for his first Sony Open title after reaching the finals three times previously; Djokovic is in his fifth final and has won four times. “The only chance to win against Novak is to play to the limit, play my best, and hope that he’s not going to have his best day,” Nadal said. “I will see. I know I have to be solid with my serve. I need to play aggressive, no doubt about that.”
Djokovic won his first title at Indian Wells, while Nadal is seeking his third title this year.
Like the men, Williams and Li have a long history together. They’ve faced each other 11 times, with Williams holding a 10-1 edge. Li’s win came in their second meeting at Stuttgart in 2008.
It’s the fifth time in Sony Open history that the No. 1 and 2 seeds have met in a women’s final. In the last occurrence, Williams beat Maria Sharapova in last year’s final. Williams is bidding for her record-setting seventh title in Key Biscayne, and her all-time record here is 66-7. She is also 2-0 against Li in two meetings in the Sony Open, including a three-set in a quarterfinal match in 2009.
Each player has only lost one set entering the final. Li won the first Grand Slam of the year at the Australian Open and has two lifetime, while Williams has won 17 Grand Slam titles.
It should be two days of exceptional tennis, showcasing the best the sport has to offer, and giving fans a thrilling end to the Sony Open tournament.