Rafael Nadal understands that he will likely finish with fewer Grand Slam singles titles than his rival Novak Djokovic — and he says Djokovic would have been “frustrated” had he not set the record.
“I’m not frustrated for a simple reason,” Nadal told Movistar. “I believe that, within my means, I have done everything possible to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible for me.
“Novak could be frustrated because he lives everything more intensely and that’s why he’s the best.”
Djokovic, 36, continued to solidify his GOAT status by winning a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title last week at the U.S. Open. He became the oldest man to win the title and tied Margaret Court for the most in men’s or women’s tennis.
Nadal, 37, remains at 22 majors as he eyes a comeback in 2024 following hip surgery earlier this year. Roger Federer, who retired last year, is third among men with 20 Slam titles.
Some Djokovic fans on social media have criticized Nadal for not congratulating Djokovic on winning his 24th major and for his “frustration” comment.
The Spaniard appeared to express some regret about missing so many Slams due to health issues, while Djokovic has kept himself in better condition, thus allowing him to compete in — and win — more majors. The Serb has reached the final in 36 of the 72 Grand Slams in which he has played.
“I have been one of the most inactive players on the circuit for many years,” Nadal said. “I’ve missed four and a half years of Grand Slams. That’s what the sport is all about. Djokovic is also more successful because he has had a level of fitness/physique that has allowed him to play more than me.”
Nadal, who has won 14 of his majors at the French Open, said it’s not realistic to expect that he will contend for another major title, which would tie him with Serena Williams at 23.
“I would like to play again, to be competitive,” he said. “But I’m not expecting to come back and win Roland Garros or Australia, so that people are not disoriented.
“I am fully aware that at the time when I am in my life, it is a distant idea. I don’t say ‘impossible.’ I’ve said it a thousand times, things change very quickly in sport.”
Nadal also said he could envision ending his career at the 2024 Paris Olympics, which run July 27-Aug. 4 at Roland Garros.
“The 2024 Olympics in Paris would be a nice end to my career if I feel good,” he said. “My schedule can change if I feel I can have a chance to win at Roland Garros.”
Nadal said he plans for 2024 to be his final year, but left the door open for that to change.
“Yes, it is going to be my last year 100%,” he said. “I have it planned like this. I don’t believe in magic but if suddenly the body recovers after the long layoff I’ve had and I feel strong and energetic to continue – I’m saying one thing but then may do another.
Djokovic, meantime, has no intention of slowing down, and ESPN’s Brad Gilbert estimated that he could win another half dozen or so majors, which would put him in the neighborhood of an unimaginable 30 Slams.
When Pete Sampras retired with 14, many thought that number would ever be eclipsed.
“I don’t want to even consider, you know, leaving tennis or thinking about an end if I’m still at the top of the game,” Djokovic said before the U.S. Open final.
“I just don’t see a reason for that. I will probably consider doing that if I get my ass kicked by young guys in the Grand Slams in the years to come in the earlier stages, and then I’ll probably say, okay, maybe it’s time to move on.”