Rafael Nadal ‘the biggest challenge in tennis’ - Novak Djokovic
RAFAEL NADAL and Novak Djokovic have faced each other 52 times in total and while the Serb has triumphed on 27 occasions, he still believes the Spaniard pushes him harder than any other player.
They first met at the French Open back in 2006 when Djokovic, 18, was forced to retire injured after losing to the first two sets.
But their most recent clash could not have been more different as they went the distance at Wimbledon before Djokovic finally triumphed 10-8 in the fifth set of a match that was stretched over two days.
And Djokovic admitted this week that he was not even surprised by the epic magnitude of a showdown with his great rival.
“We're not teenagers anymore,” Djokovic said.
“And I think we both are very pleased that we're able to play at this level.
“And Rafa being No 1 in the world, deservedly so, is always probably the biggest challenge that you can face in sport, facing him on clay. Any other tournament, but especially on clay.
“Wimbledon semi-finals was definitely one the best, most exciting matches that I was part of, and that's not uncommon with Nadal. We had plenty of those in the past.
“It was so even that it really could have gone either way.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic shared one of the great Wimbledon matches earlier this year (Image: GETTY)
“And until the last shot, I didn't know whether I was going to win.
“I believed I could, but yeah. It was a really thrilling match and just one of the matches that I'll never forget and carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Djokovic had been hoping to take advantage of Roger Federer’s absence at this week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto and renew his rivalry with Nadal, although the draw meant they would have to meet in the final.
And the Serb could not even make the quarter-finals after he crashed out last night to Stefanos Tsitsipas who beat him 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.
Novak Djokovic was knocked out of the Rogers Cup by Stefanos Tsitsipas last night (Image: GETTY)
However, Djokovic does believe his game is still improving after taking six months off in 2017 to have surgery on a long-term elbow problem.
“I think it's consistency [that has improved]. If I have to choose a shot, it would probably be serve,” Djokovic added.
“You know, I think I served very well in Wimbledon, the fastest surface in our sport, where a lot of the tactics are dependent on how accurately and how well you serve.
“And I thought I did extremely well, especially against Nadal when I needed to, in that thrilling match, and then against Kevin [Anderson] in the finals.
Novak Djokovic won his fourth Wimbledon title this summer (Image: GETTY)
“And I thought I served very well today, as well, except those double faults in the game when I lost the break. But in general, I worked a lot on that shot.
“And I think just in general, consistency of playing on a high-level match after match, I haven't had that post-surgery for several months.
“I was struggling to play two or three matches in a row consistently well. So that has changed and obviously feels good.”