Monday’s US Open men’s final marks a resumption of the most heated rivalry in tennis, pitting world No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 2 Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, the 27-year-old Spaniard with the spin-slathered strokes and fierce fighting spirit, boasts a 21-15 record against Djokovic, a 26-year-old Serb with unparalleled retrieval skills and a drive equal to Nadal’s.
But asked how he feels about taking on Djokovic for a 37th time — and the third time in four years with the US Open title at stake — Nadal smiled after mulling the prospect.
‘‘I prefer to play against another one,’’ he said. ‘‘We have to be honest, no? We don’t have to be stupid.’’
It was an acknowledgment of respect on Nadal’s part — an admission that whether he wins or loses, Djokovic will extract every ounce of energy, every drop of effort in pursuit of the title.
Djokovic will retain his No. 1 ranking regardless of Monday’s outcome. But Nadal would stake a compelling claim with a victory, becoming the only man to win more than one major this season.
Said Djokovic: ‘‘With no doubt, he’s the best player in the moment this year, no question about it.’’