Mats Wilander has claimed that Novak Djokovic will be the player most disappointed by Rafael Nadal’s absence from the French Open. The Spaniard was forced to pull out of his most successful tournament due to injury and will spend several months on the sidelines. And Wilander believes that it puts a dent in Djokovic’s plans to surpass the joint Grand Slam record he currently shares with Nadal.
Nadal’s French Open chances were in constant doubt as he struggled to recover from a psoas injury he picked up in January. As the season went on, he continued to pull out of each clay tournament until he finally announced his withdrawal from Roland Garros in a press conference last week.
The 36-year-old also revealed that 2024 would likely be his final year on the tour, and he would take several months away from the tennis court in an effort to return pain-free for his farewell season. While Djokovic is yet to publicly respond to the news, one former pro believes that it’s the Serb who will be hit the hardest.
“I think that in a way, you’re disappointed maybe more than anything that you don’t get to play Rafa somewhere,” Wilander told Eurosport, discussing the 14-time French Open champion’s withdrawal. “And I would think for Novak Djokovic, he’s most probably the most disappointed player in the whole tournament.”
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A three-time French Open champion himself, the Swede noted that Djokovic likely would have wanted to beat Nadal in his effort to make history. The world No 3 can still win a record 23rd men’s singles Grand Slam title if he can lift the trophy in Paris.
But Wilander believes that Djokovic’s plans to make history also would have included defeating Nadal on the way in a two-horse race for the record. “Because surely he would like to win his 23rd – his third French Open – by beating Rafa Nadal along the way,” he added.
Djokovic himself previously made it no secret that he wanted a showdown with the Grand Slam record on the line. He drew level with Nadal on 22 Major titles apiece after winning the Australian Open and held a press conference in Belgrade, sharing his wish to face his biggest rival in this year’s French Open final.
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“I would like to meet in the Roland Garros final, if I could choose, I believe we would both sign it now,” the Serb said back in February. He added: “Nadal has been the biggest rival and probably will remain the biggest rival I ever had in my career.”
Even with Nadal absent in Paris, Djokovic will have a tough task on his hands if he is to win that all-important 23rd Grand Slam. The third seed has been placed in Carlos Alcaraz’s half of the draw, meaning they would meet in the semi-final if they both made it that far.
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