Nadal return promises to turn tennis court into a boxing ring. Djokovic should have his gloves on
The last time both great athletes were part of an event together... it was at the Australian Open in January.
Rafael Nadal is returning to competitive tennis after more than 300 days and Novak Djokovic should be a worried man. If Nadal can steer clear of more injuries, particularly career-threatening ones, the next few months in the tennis world can very well resemble the boxing world in terms of the vibe involving these two champion players.
The last time both great athletes were part of an event together... it was at the Australian Open in January. Nadal had won 22 grand slams and Djokovic was one behind. During his second-round match, Nadal suffered a hip injury and exited the tournament after a straight-sets defeat by Mackenzie McDonald. Djokovic, on the other hand, had a great run and went on to win the first grand slam of the year and equalled Nadal's tally of 22.
Nadal then had to undergo hip surgery in June. He missed a great many tournaments, including the French Open which he has won a record 14 times. An event, where he appears to have first refusal! Djokovic meanwhile went from strength to strength, bagging the Roland Garros event as well as the US Open during this period.
It is common knowledge how the two athletes are poles apart in terms of their attitude towards winning trophies and breaking records. Despite winning so many of them over a long career, Nadal does not appear to set much store by a big trophy cabinet. He himself has admitted so. In total contrast, Djokovic swears by winning trophies and setting new records, and a few weeks back appeared to be taking a dig at the Spaniard after triumphing at the Paris Masters for a record-extending seventh time.
“I’m going for all possible records, all that I can break. I’ve never had a problem saying that and that’s why people don’t like me. I didn’t pretend like some people… to say that it’s not my goal, and then to behave differently after. I always tried to be in line with what I believe,” the Serb left nothing to the imagination.
Djoker may not be completely off the mark here. Everyone is in it to win it. Without the desire to win and set new records, how can an athlete go on playing year after year? Sort of unfathomable!
Both athletes have had bitter exchanges of words in the past but being a fierce competitor that Nadal is there is no doubt this time he will be seething, desperate to reclaim his throne as the world's number one and the winner of most grand slams in men's tennis. Those who have followed Nadal's career all these years know that he is good at hiding his emotions more often than not, that he believes in his game doing all the talking. There might be a change in that after all. Despite the veneer of politeness and self-denial, he would want to get his own back on Djokovic who wins and thrills both on and off the court through his game as well as searing words.
Nadal's first game since January will be at the Brisbane International that returns on December 31 after a break of three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The event is the precursor to the Australian Open in Melbourne and can set up the 37-year-old in a big way. “After one year outside of the Tour, I think it’s the right moment to be back. I have been working hard and feeling much better the last couple of weeks, so I feel ready to announce that I will be back in Brisbane the first week of the season,” the official website of the event quoted him as saying.
He has indicated -- as a result of his injury troubles in recent years -- that 2024 is likely to be his last season in professional tennis. That combined with the heated rivalry with Djokovic, the next year can be remarkable for fans, possibly bringing the hue of boxing to the racquet sport wherein two heavyweights of the sport are throwing punches at each other both inside as well as outside the arena, metaphorically of course. It’s not confirmed as yet if Djokovic will also be seen in action at the Queensland Tennis Centre but if he does participate, the rivalry gets renewed there itself with much more vigour and venom.