Finally, this rivalry is returning to the hard courts. The clay has been fun, but Rafael Nadal has a clear advantage when playing on his favorite surface. Now that the rivalry is back on Novak Djokovic's preferred surface, the Serb has to be the heavy favorite going into this matchup.
Djokovic has a four-match winning streak against the Spaniard on hard courts, the last of which was the near six-hour epic in the 2012 Australian Open final. Their last five meetings have all been on clay, and Nadal has won all except for the Monte Carlo final. That match is the one that has the most similarities to tonight's matchup.
Both matches are best two out of three ATP Masters Aeries 1000 matches, but the similarities are much more than just that. Both tournaments are the first big tournaments in the lead up to a slam, which means the players are still getting adjusted to the surface. This is usually a big advantage to Djokovic, because he adjusts to different surfaces more quickly than Nadal. The No. 4 player in the world almost always plays lead up events before a big tournament, and when he didn't this year for Wimbledon, he had his worst result of his career in any major. Djokovic, though, almost never plays lead ups and it doesn't affect his play.
In both tournaments, the players don't get a day off between matches. Although both players are extremely fit, this is a clear advantage to Djokovic, who thrives when playing consecutive days. Nadal, however, clearly prefers having a day off to get a practice and prepare for a new opponent. Nadal has a combined career record of 70-14 with three titles in Miami and Indian Wells, where he gets a day off. In Canada and Cincinnati, where he doesn't get a day off in between matches, Nadal has a record of 34-14 with two titles.
The final advantage for the world No. 1 is a small one, but could be a factor. The match will be played under the lights like in the 2012 match in Melbourne. Even when their rivalry first began to take off in 2007, Djokovic had an advantage in the night matches. Both of Djokovic's first two wins over Nadal were at night in Miami and in Montreal.
Everything seems to be an advantage to Djokovic so far before the coin toss, but anything can happen once the ball is tossed for the first serve. One thing is for sure, and that is that both players need this match. In a battle for the year-end No. 1 that gets more exciting each day, a chance to deny the other a win is just as important as a chance to reach the final of a Masters Series event. Whoever wins the match tonight will be the favorite to finish as the world No. 1 for the rest of the 2013 season.