Novak Djokovic favourite to achieve all-time Grand Slam record, says Rafael Nadal

Spanish star also paid tribute to 'very special' Manolo Santana who passed away earlier this month

epa09205205 Rafael Nadal (R) of Spain is congratulated by Novak Djokovic (L) of Serbia after winning their men's singles final at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, 16 May 2021.  EPA/ETTORE FERRARI
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Rafael Nadal has said the advantage is very much with Novak Djokovic to become the most decorated male Grand Slam tennis champion in history.

Nadal, Djokovic, and Roger Federer are all level on 20 major titles, but the Spaniard and his Swiss rival have endured long-term injury absences in recent years. Nadal is just making his way back from a foot injury which curtailed his 2020 season in August - and he admitted it had been troubling him for more than a year - while Federer revealed he will not be back until the middle of next year after undergoing a third surgery on his right knee in the past 18 months.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has continued to dominate at the top of the rankings. The Serb won three of four Grand Slam titles in 2021 and fell narrowly short of an historic calendar Grand Slam after losing in the US Open final. Additionally, Djokovic's conversion rate for the past decade is astonishing: he has won 19 of the last 43 majors, or 44 per cent.

"I understand that the conversation is always there, especially with Novak, who has been playing almost every week, but me and Roger have been injured for such a long period of time," said Nadal, who has won 13 of his 20 major titles at Roland Garros but was defeated in the semi-finals this year by Djokovic.

"Of course we are equal [on major titles] but the chances for Novak are much higher than for us because he’s healthy and competing and he’s doing well.

"Let’s see what can happen in the next couple of months. If I’m back again we can be talking about that later in the season. Now my real goal is to be back and to be healthy and to be competitive."

Nadal was speaking at a press conference for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, where he is set to make his return to the court on Friday.

'Manolo was a very special person'

Manolo Santana pictured during the 2015 US Open. AFP

The 35-year-old Spaniard also took the time to pay tribute to Manolo Santana, the Spanish tennis great who passed away earlier this month at the age of 83.

Santana won five Grand Slam titles in the 1960s and was ranked No 1 in the world, but his impact on tennis in Spain extended far beyond his on-court achievements. Tennis was previously a sport reserved for the rich elite in Spain, but the success of Santana - who was the son of a tennis club groundskeeper - played an enormous role in removing the class wall and making the sport more accessible.

"Everybody is so sad, of course," Nadal said. "He had been such an amazing ambassador for our sport. In the world of tennis he is a legend, especially in Spain, for all the things that he did for our sport and for all he achieved. It’s unforgettable.

"He is a legacy and helped a lot to make our sport popular in our country. The only thing we can say is ‘thanks a lot, Manolo’. We will miss him a lot because he was a very special person."

Updated: December 16, 2021, 1:40 PM