Djokovic has mixed feelings over Nadal's French Open absence
The absence of his great rival Rafael Nadal from the French Open draw has left Novak Djokovic with mixed feelings as he chases more history at Roland Garros.
The Serbian can become the first man to win 23 grand slam singles titles if he lifts the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the third time in a fortnight.
Djokovic is the only player to beat Nadal twice at Roland Garros but he has also lost eight times to the Spaniard, including in three finals.
“I don’t miss him being in the draw,” he said with a smile as he reflected on the hip problem that has kept Nadal out since January and prompted his announcement earlier this month that next season is set to be his swansong.
“I don’t like seeing him in the draw of Roland Garros. I have had not so much success against him. I have managed to beat him twice but I had to leave my heart and my guts out on the court to achieve that.”
Nadal and Djokovic have played each other 59 times, more than any two men in ATP Tour history, and the Serbian said: “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.
“Because of the rivalry that we had, and that we still have, 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.
“Definitely a great motivational factor for me to keep playing and keep competing and keep pushing each other, who’s going to achieve more, who’s going to do better.
“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 now finds himself fighting a lone battle against a host of young pretenders, led by 20-year-old world number one Carlos Alcaraz.
And Djokovic was keen to slap the favourite’s tag firmly on his young rival’s forehead despite the vast difference in their grand slam experience.
Alcaraz certainly has the better recent form, with Djokovic having struggled on clay so far amid concerns over an elbow problem, but he declared himself fully fit, and it is no secret that the slams are the titles he really cares about at this stage of his career.
“Every grand slam at this stage of my career is like a present for me, so I’ll try to use the opportunity as best as possible,” he said.
“Leading into Roland Garros, I haven’t had too much success in clay court events but a grand slam is like a different sport. I feel always extra motivated and confident in grand slams.
“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. That’s extremely motivating and inspiring for me.
“But things are different than they were 10 years ago in terms of how my body is maybe responding to the schedule. I’m feeling good at the moment. I don’t have any physical issues that worry me. So that’s most important for me.
“I think the tournament is quite open. Maybe a few guys that are at the top of the favourites’ list, but anyone can take it. I’m hoping it can be me.”