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Rafael Nadal can become the first Spaniard to win the U.S. Open in 35 years. ((Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images))

The Story

It's OK to be disappointed that Rafael Nadal won't face Roger Federer for the first time in a U.S. Open final, but if you're completely bummed about Monday's delayed match, you're not much of a tennis fan.

While Nadal-Novak Djokovic doesn't have the same cache or history, the Spaniard and the Serb have played a few corkers in their time.

Among those were a Nadal three-set win at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a match on clay in Madrid in 2009 where the normally imposing Nadal needed 7-5 and 11-9 tiebreaks to rally in three stanzas, and a Djokovic win at the 2007 Rogers Cup that heralded his emergence among the best in the world.

The conventional wisdom after Djokovic's bravura rally from two match points down to upset Federer in the second semifinal on Saturday was that he would too emotionally hung over to put up a strenuous challenge 21 hours later in a Sunday final.

But the rains came at Flushing Meadows, N.Y., and forced a one-day postponement. While the television ratings may suffer, tennis fans may get a thrilling match instead of the assumed coronation.

And considering Nadal's only 24 and Djokovic a year younger, who knows? This could be a match in five years' time that will be considered a signpost in a worthy rivalry in its own right.

The Numbers

Rafael Nadal (1)

  • Grand Slam titles: 8
  • U.S. Open Record: 27-7 
  • Slam record vs. Djokovic: 4-0

Novak Djokovic (3)

  • Grand Slam titles: 1
  • U.S. Open Record: 26-5
  • Slam record vs. Nadal: 0-4

What's at stake

Nadal is gunning for his first U.S. Open, which would see him become the seventh man to win each of the four Grand Slam titles. He would join Andre Agassi as the only player on that list who also has Olympic gold to his credit.

Nadal can become the fifth man ever to win three Grand Slam titles in a year, joining Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander and Federer.

He can become the first Spaniard to win the U.S. Open in 35 years (Manuel Orantes won the title in 1975).

Djokovic can win the second Grand Slam of his career, and can become the first Serbian to win the U.S. Open. If he's victorious, Djokovic will win the U.S. Open at age 23 years and four months, only a matter of weeks older than Federer when the Swiss star won his first.

Reasons to like Nadal

  • Nadal hasn't dropped a set at the tournament and has the whiff of destiny about him as he goes for the only Slam that's been elusive.
  • He is 14-7 overall against Djokovic.
  • It is a daunting task for a player to beat Nadal and Federer en route to winning a tournament.
  • In arguably the biggest match they've played on hard courts, Nadal prevailed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
  • Even with the extra day, Djokovic is still coming off an emotionally gruelling five-set win over a player he rarely defeats.

Reasons to like Djokovic

  • Djokovic has a 7-3 record against Nadal on hard courts.
  • In a somewhat related stat, Nadal has only beaten Djokovic once in North America, back in early 2006 when the Serb was still establishing himself.
  • While Djokovic has dropped four sets at Flushing, the three matches preceding the Federer win were relatively easy straight set affairs.
  • Canadian tennis fans know well that Djokovic can beat both Federer and Nadal in succession. He did it in Montreal to win the 2007 Rogers Cup (albeit with the order reversed).
  • Juan Martin de Potro of Argentina showed that Nadal and Federer can be beaten here at the U.S. Open in succession.
  • In his only Grand Slam win, at the 2007 Australian Open, Djokovic also advanced to the final after a victory over Federer in the semis.

What they said

"I am tired, there's no secret about that. For four sets I was quite OK but the fifth set was very intensive mentally and physically and took a lot out of me. But in the end it's a remarkable win in the [semfinal] and I'm sure I will find the strength to give my best on the court." — Novak Djokovic

"I just need to make sure I'm ready. I am in the final for the first time and this is a new step in my career. It is the last grand slam remaining, so if I lose I will come back with positive things and that is important." — Rafael Nadal