“Would I have liked to be the tennis player with the most Grand Slam titles in history? It’s sport. But it’s not an obsession, it doesn’t frustrate me that someone one is better than me. I think it would have been frustrating for Djokovic not to achieve it, and maybe that’s why he achieved it.” With these few words during an interview broadcast on the Spanish channel Movistar Plus+ on Monday, Rafael Nadal returned for the first time officially to the record further improved by Novak Djokovic at the US Open of 24 Grand Slam titles, two of more than the Spanish. A way of dismissing any idea of jealousy, but also of emphasizing the ambition of its great Serbian rival.
Some might see this as a little implicit dig. “He had the will, the motivation, he pushed his ambition to the maximum. I was ambitious, but with a healthy ambition which allowed me to see things in perspective, to not get too upset when the Things weren’t going well for me on the court,” he added. In contrast, would Djokovic’s ambition be unhealthy? Could there be a sort of excess in his desire to win that would have allowed him to push the limits of what is possible?
A special fire fueled by… Nadal and Federer
Beyond the potential bitterness of Nadal being dispossessed of his record, the question deserves to be asked. Undeniably, there is a special fire in Djokovic, the one that impressed Ben Shelton during their semi-final at Flushing Meadows. Where does he get it from? From his childhood under the bombs in Serbia? Probably. This unspeakable trauma is one of those that makes you want to embrace life to the fullest, to make the most of it.
But during his professional career, Djokovic drew his main motivation from… Nadal himself as well as Roger Federer. Emulation was the determining factor that made the Serb the monster of domination that he became. He himself agrees: without the Swiss and the Spaniard, he probably would not have reached this level. The same thing can also be said of the “Bull of Manacor” who worked tirelessly to bring down the Basel “Maestro” from his throne.
The fact remains that if Djokovic finally passed his two acolytes, he owes it, in addition to his prodigious self-confidence, also (and perhaps above all) to other extraordinary qualities. First of all, on a pure tennis level, his eye and his ability to anticipate the restart have no equal. For a long time, Andre Agassi was the supreme reference in this area, the Serbian has undoubtedly surpassed him. Add to that a game without weakness from the baseline, and remarkable progress on the serve (as well as on the volley recently) and it is difficult to do better in terms of efficiency.
Tennistically infallible, physically untouchable
Nadal and Federer have certainly progressed throughout their respective careers, but not to the point of being so infallible. The Majorcan, for example, has never had as many free points on his serve as the Serbian now, while the Swiss had a slight fragility on the backhand which, even though much lessened towards the end of his career, could cost him dearly. But it is perhaps ultimately on the physical level that “Nole” especially surpassed them.
Long praised for his longevity at the very highest level, the Basel player could well soon be surpassed in this area. One thing is certain: Djokovic has not slowed down after his thirties (12 Grand Slams won) unlike Federer. Its elasticity and ability to recover do not seem to have been affected by age. And when Nadal missed 14 Majors due to his injuries, he only missed one (not counting the other two due to his vaccination status). And the Majorcan may regret it, but he has the faults of his qualities: his exceptional power combined with such endurance put too much strain on his body.
Djokovic’s acolytes certainly undoubtedly needed less than him for the numbers to speak in their favor, as they were and still are popular. But rest assured, both Nadal and Federer had a burning desire to make history. If “Nole” has broken all records, it is because it has become the most complete of all. As excessive as his ambition may seem.
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