Novak Djokovic reveals what he learned most from ‘intimidating’ Rafael Nadal

Ewan West
Where does Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic stand among tennis' greatest ever rivalries?
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the net

Novak Djokovic has outlined the most important lesson he has learned from his great rival Rafael Nadal, highlighting the Spaniard’s “incredible tenacity and combativeness.”

The Serbian declared that Nadal’s “level of tenacity intimidates you” and compared facing the Mallorcan on court to “entering a bullfight.”

Djokovic and Nadal form what is arguably one of sport’s greatest rivalries, having faced off a remarkable 59 times – a record in men’s tennis. The Serbian holds a 30-29 lead – with their clashes to date having taken place over a 16-year period from 2006 to 2022.

The legendary duo are also the two players with the most men’s Grand Slam titles in history. Djokovic won a record-extending 24th major at the 2023 US Open earlier this month, while Nadal won his 22nd and most recent Slam at the 2022 French Open.

Nadal has not competed since suffering a hip injury in his second round loss to Mackenzie McDonald at the Australian Open in January. The 37-year-old underwent surgery on the issue in June, having initially expected to be out for only six to eight weeks.

In a interview with tennis great John McEnroe for ESPN, Djokovic revealed the biggest thing he has gained from his greatest rival.

“What I learned the most from Rafael Nadal was this spirit of: ‘Never die, never give up.’ This is arguably the most courage we have seen from a player,” said the 36-year-old.

“He shows incredible tenacity and combativeness on the field and in the locker room. This level of tenacity intimidates you. That’s what you feel when you play against him. It’s like you’re entering a bullfight.”

READ MORE: Novak Djokovic reveals crucial lesson he learned from Roger Federer

The world No 1 spoke about the absence of Nadal at this year’s French Open, with the 14-time champion forced to miss the event for the first time since 2004 due to injury.

“Honestly, I don’t miss him being in the draw. I don’t like seeing him in the draw of Roland Garros (laughs),” Djokovic said in a press conference.

“I have had not so much success against him in our head-to-head record in Roland Garros. I’ve managed to beat him twice, but I had to leave my heart and my guts out on the court to achieve that.

“A lot of people retired him already 10 years ago but he kept going, which is something I respect and admire. I know how hard it is to maintain that level and keep going even after having a tough injury.

“I have to say that he’s my biggest rival. When he announced that he’s going to have his last season of [his] career, I felt part of me is leaving with him too. I feel that he was one of the most impactful people that I have ever had in my career, the growth of my career and me as a player.

“Definitely a great motivational factor for me to keep playing and keep competing and keep pushing each other – who’s going achieve more, who’s going to do better.”

READ MORE: Top analyst makes ‘frustration’ claim about ‘mentally fatigued’ Carlos Alcaraz