Novak Djokovic: Rafael Nadal 'one of the most impactful people of my career'

Serb pays tribute to his great rival who announced last week he could retire at the end of the 2024 season

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal last played each other at the 2022 French Open, with Nadal winning the quarter-final match en route to his 14th Roland Garros title. AP
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Novak Djokovic said a part of him would leave with Rafael Nadal if the Spanish great retires next year, but joked that he will not miss him at the French Open.

Nadal, who has not played since the Australian Open in January due to a hip injury, announced last week that he is not fit enough to defend his Roland Garros title while also revealing that 2024 could be his last season on tour.

The Spaniard has dominated the French Open throughout his career, winning 14 of his 22 Grand Slam titles on the Paris clay while amassing a remarkable 112-3 win-loss record. Two of those three losses have come against Djokovic, although he has beaten the Serb on eight other occasions at Roland Garros.

"Honestly, I don't miss him being in the draw. I don't like seeing him in the draw of Roland Garros," Djokovic told reporters with a laugh.

"I have had not so much success against him in our head-to-head record in Roland Garros. I've managed to beat him twice, but I had to leave my heart and my guts out on the court to achieve that.

"A lot of people retired him already 10 years ago but he kept going, which is something I respect and admire. I know how hard it is to maintain that level and keep going even after having a tough injury."

Djokovic, who is level on a record 22 major titles with Nadal, said the Spaniard's announcement came as a shock. The 36-year-old Serb praised his rival for bringing out the best in him over the years they dominated the sport. The pair have shared the biggest men's rivalry of the Open era, playing each other a record 59 times, including nine Grand Slam finals.

"I have to say that he's my biggest rival. When he announced that he's going to have his last season of (his) career, I felt part of me is leaving with him too," Djokovic said.

"I feel that he was one of the most impactful people that I have ever had in my career, the growth of my career and me as a player.

Novak Djokovic during a practice session at Roland Garros as he prepares his bid for a third French Open title. Getty

"Definitely a great motivational factor for me to keep playing and keep competing and keep pushing each other - who's going achieve more, who's going to do better."

If Nadal does call it quits, Djokovic will be the last of the 'Big Three' remaining on tour after Roger Federer retired last year, but the Serbian has no plans on hanging up his racket yet.

"It made me wonder, it made me think about my career and how long I'm going to play," Djokovic said. "So far I'm not going to make any announcement today, but just reflecting on it, I also felt a little bit emotional about what he was saying."

Djokovic begins his bid for a third French Open title against American Aleksandar Kovacevic on Monday.

Updated: May 28, 2023, 8:19 AM