Part of me will leave when Nadal quits: Djokovic

Novak Djokovic admitted Saturday that when career-long rival Rafael Nadal retires next year “part of me will be leaving too”.

Djokovic shares the all-time men’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles with Nadal but can break that tie by winning the French Open for a third time.

Nadal, the 14-time champion in Paris, is sitting out Roland Garros with a hip injury. With his 37th birthday fast approaching, the Spaniard has admitted that 2024 will likely be his final year on tour.

“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,” said Djokovic.

“It made me think about my career and how long I’m going to play.

“I’m not going to make any announcement today, but just reflecting on it. I felt also a little bit emotional about what he was saying.”

Djokovic holds a 30-29 career edge over Nadal but the Spanish star has been the superior force at Roland Garros with eight wins in the pair’s 10 meetings.

“I don’t like seeing him in the draw of Roland Garros, to be honest,” added Djokovic.

“I have had not so much success against him in our head-to-head. I have managed to beat him twice, but I had to leave my heart and my guts out on the court to achieve that.”

‘History on the line’
Should Djokovic add the 2023 French Open title to his wins in 2016 and 2021, he will not only break the Grand Slam tie with Nadal in the men’s record books.

He would also go level with Serena Williams’s 23 and be just one short of the overall record for men and women in the sport — the 24 Grand Slams held by Margaret Court.

“It’s no secret that one of the main reasons I play today and compete in professional tennis is to try to break more records and make more history in tennis,” said Djokovic.

“That’s extremely motivating and inspiring for me. History being on the line is something that is very flattering.”

Despite his two titles at Roland Garros, Djokovic insists current world number one Carlos Alcaraz is favourite to add a maiden Paris crown to his US Open triumph.

The 20-year-old Spaniard, 16 years Djokovic’s junior, has titles on clay in Buenos Aires, Madrid and Barcelona this spring.

By comparison, Djokovic failed to get beyond the last eight in any of his clay tournaments with his progress hampered by the recurrence of an elbow injury.

“He’s No. 1 in the world, and he’s a player that won big titles on clay this season. So right now he is the biggest favourite regardless of the fact that he has one Grand Slam and I have 22.”

Djokovic and Alcaraz are seeded to meet in the semi-finals of the French Open which starts Sunday.

Alcaraz will start his campaign against Italy’s world number 159 Flavio Cobolli.

Djokovic, meanwhile, will take on 114th-ranked Aleksandar Kovacevic of the United States who will be making his main draw bow at the major.

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