With the French Open due to start on Sunday without Nadal (injured) or Federer (who is retired) for the first time since 1998, Djokovic finally has a chance to lead his career alone with a men’s record of 23. If he finishes the championship in two weeks, Djokovic would break the tie with Nadal and have three more trophies than Federer.
“It’s no secret that one of the main reasons I play and compete in professional tennis today is to try to break more records and make tennis history,” Djokovic said on Saturday. “It’s very motivating and inspiring for me.”
Djokovic’s current collection of 22 Majors – two at Roland Garros in 2016 and 2021; three at the US Open; seven at Wimbledon and 10 at the Australian Open, including last January – meaning he has 16 more than the other 127 men in the Paris ladder combined. Stan Wawrinka won three while Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev AND Dominic Thiem have one.
“Grand Slams are a different tournament, a different sport in a way, because you play best-of-five (set), you play the most important tournaments in the world,” said Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia, “and the experience is on my page.”
That’s why when other players are asked who comes in as favorites in Nadal’s absence, they often mention two names: Alcaraz, who is ranked No. 1 and is 20-2 with three titles on red clay in 2023, and Djokovic, who this season, he is 5-3 on the French Open surface.
“Because Novak has won so many times,” he said Kacper Ruud, Nadal’s runner-up at Roland Garros and Alcaraz at the US Open last year. “This year’s season on clay may not have been what he expected, but I’m sure he has a lot of confidence in himself.”
Djokovic, for his part, called the 20-year-old Alcaraz “the biggest favourite”, citing “the last few months and the shape and form he has – and I have”.
Place 3, Djokovic could meet Alcaraz in the semi-finals.
Djokovic, who has a chance to become the only man in tennis history with at least three titles from each major, also named several other contenders, including Ruuda, Medvedeva, Holger Rune, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev AND Jannik Sinner.
Djokovic was in a somewhat contemplative mood on the eve of the event, explaining how much harder it is in his body at his age and that he treats every Grand Slam tournament he currently competes in “like a gift” (aside from any discussion of the directions he’s missed) because he has not been vaccinated against COVID-19).
His most candid comments came when asked about Nadal, the 14-time Paris champion who has been sidelined since January with a hip injury.
After starting a joke that referred to Nadal’s 8-2 matchup at Roland Garros – “Honestly, I don’t miss his draw, you know” – Djokovic became more serious. He reflected on their intertwined paths and said he was moved to hear Nadal say that 2024 will likely be his last year on the road.
“He is my biggest rival. When he announced he was going to have his last season of his career, I felt a part of me going with him too, if you know what I mean,” Djokovic said. “I feel like he was one of the most, I would say, influential people I’ve ever had in my career, the development of my career and myself as a player. Definitely a great motivator for me to keep playing and keep competing and pushing each other. Who will achieve more? Who will fare better? I was wondering. It made me think about my career and how long I’ll be playing.
And then he paused and smiled before making the line – perhaps for clarity, perhaps for the laughter he knew he would evoke: “I’m not going to announce anything today.”