Rafael Nadal has said his longtime rival Novak Djokovic is the most successful tennis player in history, even though he was more ambiguous about who fans prefer to watch.
Djokovic won his 24th grand slam singles title this month when he beat Daniil Medvedev in the final of the US Open. That put him two ahead of Nadal and level with Margaret Court, who holds the women’s record.
“I believe that numbers are numbers and statistics are statistics. In that sense, I think he [Djokovic] has better numbers than mine and that is indisputable,” Nadal said in an interview with AS published on Wednesday.
The issue of the greatest men’s player of all time is an often partisan issue, hotly debated by fans of Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer. While, Nadal acknowledged the argument is almost unwinnable, he conceded that in terms of numbers Djokovic is on top.
“[There] are tastes, inspiration, sensations that one or the other may transmit to you, that you may like one or the other more,” he said. “I think that with respect to titles, Djokovic is the best in history and there is nothing to discuss about that.”
Nadal’s quest to keep up with Djokovic has been hampered by injury. A hip issue meant he only played in one grand slam, January’s Australian Open, in 2023. But the Spaniard said injuries were not an excuse for losing his record to Djokovic.
“As always, everyone can see the story as they wish, saying that I suffered many injuries. Bad luck for me or bad luck that I had my body this way,” he said. “He has had another one, and in some ways that is also part of the sport. I congratulate [Djokovic] for everything he is achieving, and it doesn’t cause me any kind of frustration.”
Djokovic has the slight edge over Nadal in their head-to-head record, leading 30-29.
Nadal, who turned 37 in June, added that Djokovic’s recent success did not affect the way he saw his own career.
“I said it when I was the one with the most slams, I said it when we were tied, and I say it now that I am behind: I am not going to be the one who tries, through a personal struggle, to want to be what I am not,” Nadal said. “What is, is, and what is not, is not. I say this: I am very satisfied with everything that I have done.”
Federer has retired and Nadal has said he will probably step away from the tour in 2024. But even at 36, Djokovic is showing few signs of slowing down. Nadal believes the Serb is the only real threat to 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz at the top of the men’s game.
“[Alacaraz] has been the world No 1 until recently. Although he’s very young right now, practically the only rival I see for him is Djokovic,” Nadal said.