Novak Djokovic is chasing records and history, but Rafael Nadal made it clear in Paris he couldn’t be more different than the Serbian.
Rafael Nadal extended his lead in the men’s grand slam race on Monday but he isn’t focused on finishing ahead of his greatest rivals.
The Spaniard won his 22nd major trophy with a comfortable straight sets victory over Casper Ruud — putting him two titles clear of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
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But while tennis fans are obsessed with the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) debate on the men’s side, the man of the moment isn’t.
Nadal was quick to shut down any suggestion of being motivated to end his career with more majors than Federer and Djokovic, who have both triumphed at 20 grand slams.
“It’s very simple to understand for me. I don’t know, sometimes for you (the media) it’s a little bit different,” Nadal said when asked what keeps driving him at 36, even when he has to battle through the debilitating pain of a serious foot injury that is threatening his career.
“It’s not about being the best of the history, it’s not about the records, it’s about I like what I do, I like to play tennis and I like the competition.
“We achieved our dreams — me, Roger, Novak. We achieved things that probably we never expected.
“For me, what drives me to keep going is not the competition to try to be the best, to win more grand slams than the others.
“What drives me to keep going is the passion for the game. To live moments that stay inside me forever and play in front of the best crowds in the world and the best stadiums. That’s what drives me and the passion for what I do.
“Then of course, if I don’t feel competitive I don’t enjoy, so that’s it.
“It’s not about winning more titles. It’s about the goal to give myself a chance to keep doing what I like to do.”
It’s a very different viewpoint to Djokovic, who has been vocal in the past about being motivated by trophies and time spent as world No. 1 — a ranking he has held for longer than any other player in men’s history after hitting 311 weeks at the top last year.
“I value all the records and achievements greatly. Being historically No. 1 ranked player in the world is probably the paramount achievement of our sport,” Djokovic said in November.
It was something Nadal himself noted about Djokovic in 2021.
“He’s more focused on just these things and it means a lot to him all of this stuff,” Nadal said. “Like he’s always saying and talking about these records and well done for him, but it’s not my approach to my tennis career.”
Nadal is now level with Steffi Graf on 22 grand slams, behind only Serena Williams (23) and Margaret Court (24). Whether he will be able to add to that tally remains to be seen after he revealed the full extent of his foot injury following his 14th French Open triumph.
The left-hander said he cannot keep playing if he has to keep having his troublesome foot numbed, admitting “I can’t keep going like this, but I am working to find a solution”.
“It’s obvious that with circumstances that I am playing, I can’t and I don’t want to keep going, so the mindset is very clear. I’m going to keep working to try to find a solution and an improvement for what’s happening in the foot,” he added.
Nadal revealed he needed painkilling injections in his left foot before every match and will undergo treatment again this week back in Spain.
“If it works, I keep going. If not, it will be another story and I will ask myself if I am ready to do a major surgery which may not guarantee I will be competitive and may take a long time to be back.”
Nadal said that taking anaesthetic injections in the nerves in his foot was the only way he could have got through the tournament.
Now he and his medical team will employ a technique which will burn the nerve using what he described as “radio frequency injections” to “sleep the two nerves”.
Nadal said he intends to play Wimbledon where he is a two-time champion and gets underway in three weeks’ time.
“I’m going to be in Wimbledon if my body is ready to be in Wimbledon. That’s it. Wimbledon is not a tournament that I want to miss,” he said.
“I love Wimbledon. So if you ask me if I will be in Wimbledon, I can’t give you a clear answer. Let’s see how the treatment works.” If the treatment works and he can survive with anti-inflammatories and not anaesthetic, he will be at the All England Club having sat out the tournament last year.
“If I am able to play with anti-inflammatories, yes; to play with anaesthetic injections, no. I don’t want to put myself in that position again.”