The debate over who is the greatest male tennis player is officially over.
This is thanks in large part to Rafael Nadal, the man who won several tournaments in 2022 that Novak Djokovic couldn't compete in, due to Djokvic's refusal to take the COVID vaccine.
Now of course, Djokovic winning his 24th Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open should have categorically ended all debate, but Nadal has also squashed any further discussion by saying Djokovic’s trophy case makes him better than any male to have ever played the sport.
“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,” the Spanish legend said.
The Spaniard’s confession is significant because of how he reacted to Djokovic getting deported from Australia in 2022.
At the time, Nadal and Djokovic were tied with Roger Federer for most Grand Slam titles with 20 apiece. As such, whoever won the 2022 Australian Open would hold the new record, and all signs pointed to Djokovic winning the tournament he had traditionally dominated in the past.
However, Djokovic was deported from Australia because he was unvaccinated, giving Nadal the inside track to get the record. Before the tournament began, he seemed to rub salt on Djokovic’s wound by gloating over the Serbian’s situation.
“I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without a problem,” the Spaniard said on Thursday. “He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to make their own decisions. But then there are some consequences.”
Nadal would end up winning that tournament and the 2022 French Open, putting significant distance between himself and Djokovic. But just over a year later, the GOAT is getting the last laugh, and the admission that Djokovic is the greatest shows Nadal knows he’s been beat. He will have one more year to catch Djokovic before he plans on retiring, but due to Nadal’s injuries and the Serbian’s form, that seems unlikely.
Lesson learned: don’t taunt the greats, even if they seem like they’re down for the count. Once they get back up, they come back with a chip on their shoulder and vengeance on their mind.
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