GOAT race complicated by injuries and absences for Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

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Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo Credit: Alamy
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo Credit: Alamy

Mats Wilander believes that the way Grand Slam tennis has panned out recently has detracted from the battle between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to be the all-time Major tournament wins leader.

Wilander feels that Novak Djokovic would have wanted Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros this year in the hope that he could take charge of the race with his rival present.

The seven-time Slam winner feels that Djokovic would be the most disappointed player in the field when it comes to Nadal’s absence through a hip injury.

“I would think for Novak Djokovic, he’s most probably the most disappointed player in the whole tournament,” Wilander said on Eurosport.

“Because surely he would like to win his 23rd – his third French Open – by beating Rafa Nadal along the way.

“It’s such a big time in tennis right now in terms of the history of the game and the history of being the greatest ever.

“And when we don’t get Novak because of the Covid vaccine situation and now we don’t get Rafa because of injury, the race is kind of weird in my mind.

“I mean, I’ve always said it. I hope in many ways that Rafa and Novak end up on the same number of Grand Slams, and then Roger Federer will be mentioned in the same sentence as the greatest ever anyway.”

Wilander feels that Djokovic is now nailed on to win the Grand Slam race against Nadal.

“I mean, I think if we’re counting the greatest just in terms of Grand Slam tournaments, then I’d say it’s very possible that Novak is going to be the goat,” Wilander said.

“And of course, if he wins in Paris in 20 days, he becomes the huge favourite to win Wimbledon. And of course, if he wins Wimbledon, suddenly he’s got three majors in a row.

“Now we’re talking about somebody who’s so great and obviously is going to be the goat because he has another chance to win the calendar Grand Slam.”

Wilander said that while Djokovic has a record that is the envy of every player who has ever picked up a racket, it would be extra special if he established a new record by winning ‘Nadal’s tournament’.

“The feeling that Novak has going into this year’s French Open is a feeling that I think all of us ex-players, we are so jealous right now because of the confidence that he must have to have 22 Grand Slams,” Wilander said.

“The unknown factor of, ‘Oh, can I win the French Open for the third time?’ But more importantly, ‘Can I be the greatest player of all time in 20 days?’

“I mean, that anticipation feeling must be so nice, so nerve-wracking in a way. Scary, but also such a confidence boost because we’re not talking about Novak Djokovic, who’s getting old.

“He is still looking so young and he knows he’s got Wimbledon, he’s got the US Open, he’s got the Australian Open again next year.

“So this is not his last chance. But it would be in a way ironic if he breaks the record by winning Rafa’s tournament.”

Djokovic is scheduled top face American Aleksandar Kovacevic in the opening match of his French Open campaign on Sunday, 28 May 2023.

READ MORE: Are Novak Djokovic’s French Open hopes dependent on the weather?

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