Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal’s Grand Slam race: Who’s in better shape? What happens next?
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are level once again at the top of the men’s singles all-time Grand Slam standings following the Serbian’s win at Melbourne Park on Sunday.
Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open final to claim his 22nd Slam title, the same mark Nadal hit at the French Open last season.
Here is a look at their journeys and what will happen next.
How did we get here?
Nadal is a year older than his rival and made his breakthrough early, winning his first French Open title just after turning 19. He had three titles by the time Djokovic won his first in Australia in 2008 and was already on nine when the Serbian claimed his second. But since then Djokovic has been catching up fast. Djokovic’s 2021 Wimbledon title left both on 20 and now they are level again.
Who’s in better shape?
Undoubtedly Djokovic. Nadal’s two Slam titles last year were a tremendous effort but staying fit is becoming increasingly difficult for the 36-year-old Spaniard, with a hip problem that contributed to a second-round loss here his latest ailment. Djokovic, on the other hand, has won five of the last seven slams he has played and looks in as good a shape as he did at 25.
What happens next?
In a best-case scenario, Nadal could return for the next big tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami in March, but may choose to stay off the match courts until his favoured clay. With the pair locked at 22 apiece, it sets up the delicious prospect of a straight fight for outright supremacy at the French Open beginning on May 28.
How many could they end up with?
A fascinating question. Nadal may look vulnerable but do not expect anyone to bet against him adding a 15th title at Roland Garros – and maybe even a 16th – too.
Djokovic, meanwhile, barring unforeseen circumstances, will be the favourite at Wimbledon and the US Open, and of course when the tour returns to Australia next year. It would be a surprise if he does not overtake Margaret Court’s outright record of 24 to be the most successful Grand Slam singles player of all time and he could perhaps push on towards 30.
After his latest title, Djokovic stated: “I still have lots of motivation. Let’s see how far it takes me. I really don’t want to stop here. I don’t have intention 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 for granted. Of course, awareness there’s a lot of players that want this trophy or want the No 1 position in the world.”
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