Djokovic will never be able to match what Nadal has achieved
In spite of the iconic duels between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, their 'Fedal' rivalry is not the greatest in men’s tennis history. That claim would instead go to Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
The numbers do speak for themselves. Since their first meeting in 2006, Djokovic and Nadal have gone mano-a-mano in 54 matches - the most between any two players in the Open era. Djokovic has won 28, while Nadal has won 26.
Every other significant rivalry in modern history is more lopsided, in addition to having fewer total matches.
John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors played 34 times, with McEnroe holding a bigger edge than Djokovic does over Nadal. Likewise, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi played 34 times, and Sampras won 20 to Agassi’s 14.
Djokovic versus Nadal is hence, arguably, the greatest rivalry in men’s tennis.
When they first met at the French Open in 2006, Nadal and Djokovic had one major title between the two of them. Now, Nadal has 19 while Djokovic has 16; and at ages 33 and 32, respectively, they could both reach or surpass Federer’s current major record of 20.
Djoker and Rafa have met in the final of all four Grand Slams. And Djokovic and Nadal’s rivalry is more competitive in the Slams, as well, with Nadal winning nine major matches to Djokovic’s six.
Even if you rate Nadal’s win over Federer in the famous 2008 Wimbledon match as the greatest men’s match of this era, Djokovic and Nadal have had some epic showdowns, too.
The final of the 2012 Australian Open is right there among the greats. The sets were long with a lot of running, improbable winners and extra T-shirts. In the end, Djokovic prevailed in a five-hour, 53-minute slog. They both had difficulty standing during the trophy ceremony.
Other matches have been similarly captivating. In the semifinals of the French Open in 2013, Nadal beat Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth set. At Wimbledon last year, also a semifinal, the match was played under the roof, even when they had to finish the match the next day. Nadal lost in the fifth set, 10-8.
Djokovic and Nadal will meet again soon, and there will likely be many more big matches between them in the future. They’re still in their primes, and they’re just too good to stay away from each other.
But still, there is clearly something that stands in the way of the Serb reaching the heights that the Spaniard has managed to accomplish.
Nadal is easily the greatest ever to have graced a clay court. He has also had success in hard courts, and absolutely does not mind the grass at Wimbledon.
With only one year separating the duo, Nadal leads by three Slams, and that is not a small number, to say the least.
One could never assert that Djokovic has dominated in the last few decade, better than Nadal. The former might have had isolated spurts of greatness, but the fact of the matter is that Rafa has had better longevity and consistency, despite being prone to many an injury.
Even though Novak has fitness that is second to none, Nadal has clung on for many years now, playing the most gruelling of tennis, and reaping rewards.
Let us not, for a moment, forget that Djokovic is a supremely gifted athlete and a joy to watch. But, in a career that has spanned many years now, Nadal has displayed his rawness, ferocity, agility, strength and mental toughness for everyone to see.
And when the curtains fall on both of them, do not be surprised if Nadal ends up with a better career, for I strongly feel that Djokovic will fail to match Rafa's achievements.