Djokovic and Nadal backed for French Open battle locked on 22 grand slams each

The grand slam battle moves on to the French Open, where it could be a straight fight between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for supremacy.

Djokovic’s victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday earned him a 10th Australian Open title and drew him level with Nadal at the top of the all-time men’s standings on 22 grand slam titles.

Djokovic’s deportation from Australia last year meant their tie on 20 was broken without the Serbian present, but this time all eyes will be on the battle at Roland Garros in the spring.

Despite a hamstring injury that left him fearing for his chances, Djokovic dropped only one set at Melbourne Park and felt he played some of his best tennis.

PA Graphic
PA Graphic

At 35, he is showing no sign of slowing up and is back at number one in the world rankings having overtaken Carlos Alcaraz.

“Of course I am motivated to win as many slams as possible,” said Djokovic. “At this stage of my career, these trophies are the biggest motivational factor of why I still compete.

“I still have lots of motivation. Let’s see how far it takes me. I really don’t want to stop here. I feel great about my tennis. I know that when I’m feeling good physically, mentally present, I have a chance to win any slam against anybody.

“I like my chances going forward. But, again, nothing is given or nothing is taken for granted. Of course, I have awareness there’s a lot of players that want this trophy or want the number one position in the world.

“Physically I can keep myself fit. Of course, 35 is not 25, even though I want to believe it is. But I still feel there is time ahead of me. Let’s see how far I go.”

Novak Djokovic poses with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup
Novak Djokovic poses with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

As well as surpassing Nadal, Djokovic also has the overall record in his sights, with Serena Williams on 23 and Margaret’s Court’s current best of 24 now the only targets ahead of him.

Asked how long he thinks Djokovic can challenge for major titles, his coach Goran Ivanisevic said: “Definitely two, three more years. The way he’s taking care of his body, the way he approaches everything, the food, it’s amazing. It’s unbelievable the level.”

Former Wimbledon champion Ivanisevic described the 22-22 draw as “like a handball match”, and he expects Djokovic and Nadal to again repel the likes of Tsitsipas, Alcaraz and the other young pretenders in Paris.

“Talking about the young guys, they’re here, it’s great for tennis, great for the future of tennis,” he said. “But you still have these two guys battling. This was Novak’s home court and now we’re going to Rafa’s home court.

“Yes, they are coming – Alcaraz, unbelievable. Still, if Rafa steps on the court at the French Open, for me he’s always the favourite to win the tournament.

“I said eight or nine years ago that Novak and Rafa will go over Roger (Federer). People were looking at me like strangely. But we have 22-22. Two unbelievable competitors, two unbelievable tennis players, what they did for tennis.

“I’m looking forward, honestly, for both of them to be super healthy, then the battle is there. And with the young guys who are going to try to find back doors to sneak and try to do something. But still these two guys, they are going to have the last word to say there.”

Tsitsipas tasted defeat to Djokovic for a second time in a grand slam final having also lost at the French Open in 2021, but he was not downcast afterwards.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, right, fell short against Djokovic again
Stefanos Tsitsipas, right, fell short against Djokovic again (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

He revealed he dreamed about lifting the trophy the night before the final, and said: “The desire is really there. I really, really want it badly. But just dreaming about it won’t make it happen. You’ve got to act. You’ve got to do something out there. You’ve got to be present even more and do better.

“Novak is a player that pushes you to your limits. I don’t see this as a curse. I don’t see this as something annoying. This is very good for the sport, to have competitors like him, to have champions like him.

“He’s very important for us that want to get to his point one day. Getting our asses kicked is for sure a very good lesson every single time.”