Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open return has reinvigorated GOAT race with Rafael Nadal – former world No 1

Pre-match Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

The debate over who will finish as the greatest tennis player of all time (GOAT) is “alive again” now that Novak Djokovic will be able to play at the Australian Open again, according to Mats Wilander.

Djokovic was unable to defend his title at Melbourne Park at the start of the year after he was deported from the country due to his unvaccinated status while he also didn’t compete in the North American hard-court swing, including the US Open.

His deportation from Australia also resulted in a three-year visa ban, but that has since been lifted and the 35-year-old is free to play at the 2023 season-opening Grand Slam.

Rafael Nadal made the most of his great rival’s absence in Melbourne as he won this year’s Australian Open to win a 21st Grand Slam title and he then added another Roland Garros title to move two majors clear of Djokovic and Roger Federer in the race for most Slams – which many believe will ultimately determine the GOAT.

Djokovic, though, hit back by winning a seventh Wimbledon title and he is now just one Grand Slam behind the Spaniard. The Serbian also finished the season on a high as he won a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title.

Seven-time Grand Slam winner and former world 1 Wilander says the Serbian’s return to Australia has revived the GOAT conversation.

“It’s obviously really important for him [Djokovic’s Australian Open inclusion],” the tennis analyst told Eurosport. “We had to guess last time he wasn’t allowed in Australia. He must have been heartbroken. We have no idea how he felt because he was very good at hiding it.

“For the game, this is most probably the most single important piece of news since Covid-19 hit the first time, because we were stuck in this race between the biggest, greatest three players of all time on the men’s side, with three different contrasting styles coming up at different times. Roger pushing the envelope, Nadal pushing Roger and then Novak coming to kind of ‘spoil the party’.

“If Novak had not been allowed [to play unvaccinated], the history of our game would have become completely irrelevant. The numbers of Grand Slams would have become completely irrelevant if Novak wasn’t able to play anymore.

“For most people I say that we really would like to know who we can label No 1 of all time.

“So I think it’s really important for the press and the space that we get in the media as a professional sport, I think is enhanced massively by having that race come back and being alive again.”

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