May 30, 2024

Novak Djokovic has hailed his “greatest rival” Rafael Nadal after what could potentially be his final French Open appearance.


The Spaniard – a 14-time winner at Roland Garros – fell at the first hurdle in his latest appearance. He fell to a 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 defeat against Alexander Zverev on Monday.


It means that Nadal won’t be adding to his record-breaking haul of wins in France. He hinted in an emotional speech that he would not be returning to the competition in the future after recent injury issues.


Serbian star Djokovic is now firmly in the running to claim his fourth success. He reached the third round of the French Open on Thursday after beating Roberto Carballes Baena.



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Speaking after his latest success, three-time winner Djokovic made sure to pay tribute to Nadal. Speaking in a press conference, he said: “He has been the greatest rival that I ever had.


“Matches against him on clay have frustrated me so much in my career, but they also made me a better player, made me understand what it takes to try to surpass him; try to win at least once or twice at Roland-Garros.


“It’s the highest mountain to climb for me to win Roland-Garros, particularly because of Nadal, because I always have to win against him in order to get to the title. We had some really fantastic matches here.”


Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in the final of the French Open in 2022 ( Image: Getty Images)

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Djokovic’s compliments of Nadal continued, as he claimed that the Spaniard actually got trickier to play the older he got. He added: “I have experienced first-hand his evolution as a player.


“I actually think that he has improved his backhand as he gets older. He was probably conscious of physical struggles that he had, and he had to be more aggressive.


“He was still top-spinning the forehand better than anybody has ever done, and he still kept that incredible defence and offence on the forehand, but I think with [his] backhand he was just able to handle the high balls better than he was at the beginning of our encounters.”


Djokovic has not been the only one to pay tribute to Nadal during the opening rounds of the French Open. The Spaniard’s first-round opponent Zverev also gave him a heartfelt message. Speaking after his win against Nadal, he said: “I don’t know what to say. Thank you Rafa from all of the tennis world.


“It is such a great honour. I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood and I was lucky enough to play him two times on this beautiful court. Today is not my moment, it is Rafa’s moment. I’m not going to speak much.”

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