Djokovic gets nod in GOAT race against Nadal from unlikely source

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Novak Djokovic has been given the advantage in the GOAT race with Rafael Nadal by the Spaniard’s own uncle Toni. The world No 6’s former coach confessed that their rivalry was a “complicated” one after the 35-year-old caught up to the Spaniard in the Grand Slam race, tying Nadal’s record of 22 titles with his Australian Open win.

The GOAT race between Djokovic and Nadal became even more intense after the Serb won the Australian Open, marking a record 10th trophy in Melbourne and drawing level with Nadal’s overall Major record of 22 titles. It means that the competitors will go into the French Open both playing for the record for the first time in the history of their rivalry.

While the French Open is Nadal’s hunting ground – with 14 titles and three match losses ever to his name – his uncle and former coach has admitted that it will be tough for the 36-year-old to overcome Djokovic in the overall race even if he can pull ahead at Roland Garros. Speaking to EFE during an educational meeting, Toni said that Nadal’s attempt to overcome his rival “is difficult because Djokovic is fresher than him.”

He still refused to write off his nephew at the French Open given his track record, saying that Nadal “will have options at Roland Garros”. But for everything beyond the Parisian clay-court Major, Toni said: “We’ll see.”

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Discussing their rivalry, he continued: “In the end it’s a complicated fight against a great champion like Djokovic.” And the current coach of Felix Auger-Aliassime said he preferred “not to make predictions” about who would eventually go down as the greatest of all time. 

Toni was also safe in the knowledge that his nephew and first protege had already created a legendary career regardless of the outcome of his race against Djokovic in the latter stages of his time on the tour. The 61-year-old backed Nadal to “try to get the titles that may come” but said he would do so “knowing that his career, whatever he does, has been a great career. Now he has to make this last effort to continue, as he has been doing for a long time.”

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It comes after Toni snubbed his own nephew and declared that Djokovic was the “most complete” player on the tour in his recent El Pais column, in which he analysed the world No 1’s run to a record 10th Australian Open crown. “In this edition he has been practically intractable, holding an impeccable tournament from start to finish,” he said of Djokovic’s time in Melbourne.

“His game is undoubtedly the most complete on the circuit, which allows him to play both attacking and defending. He is decisive and a fighter to the point of exhaustion, and responds with astonishing serenity in moments of maximum tension. He also has the ambition and the consequent desire to continue improving. Proof of this is his service, highly perfected in recent times.”

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