Two of the greatest rivals of all time in tennis are Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The two are each other's biggest enemies on the court, but are they off the court as well? So, are Nadal and Djokovic friends?
Nadal and Djokovic are not friends. But both players do have a lot of respect for each other. Djokovic indicated that he can't be friends with his rivals. Both players expect to be more friendly with each other after their careers.
Just because Nadal and Djokovic are not friends doesn't mean they don't like each other. Read on to find out more about the relationship between the two players.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are undoubtedly two of the greatest tennis players ever. With Roger Federer, they form the “Big 3” and have totally dominated the world of tennis for almost two full decades.
Nadal versus Djokovic is also the most common match in the Big 3, as they have faced each other an incredible 58 times.
They are such fierce competitors that there are only two wins between them: Djokovic has 30 wins against Nadal’s 28.
Of course, they are possibly the greatest rivals in the sport’s history, with one player almost unanimously loved by fans and the other being a more divisive figure, but are they friends in real life?
It would be an exaggeration to call them friends, but they are friendly today, and their relationship has certainly gotten better over time.
Once they retire, the idea of them becoming friends is certainly not inconceivable.
They are unlikely to be best friends, but mutual respect and admiration could definitely give way to a friendship.
Their mutual respect is evident for all to see.
The two are both in the best position to admire each other’s accomplishments, and they have both accomplished a plethora of incredible feats.
Neither player would likely have reached their peak without the other.
They also support each other’s charitable foundations. Nadal and Djokovic have played against each other in exhibition matches in Milan and Kazakhstan to raise money for their foundations.
Also, as difficult as it is, they, of course, relish playing against each other.
Each is their toughest opponent, and being on the court together is undoubtedly the toughest but most enjoyable thing they do in their tennis careers and lives.
Having a friendship throughout their careers would have been somewhat tricky for a few reasons.
Firstly, it is not always easy to be friends with such a fierce competitor.
Secondly, as direct rivals, they were constantly pushing themselves to beat each other. A major part of their motivation to train would be to specifically beat the other.
They played each other for the first time in 2006, and since then, the matchup has become the most prolific match in tennis history.
Early in his career, Djokovic was considered rather immature on the tour.
The Serb used to mess around quite a lot, imitating players, getting angry on the court, and being accused of abandoning matches he thought he would lose.
This made him unpopular among both players and fans, and some took a particular dislike to him.
Federer seemed to have a problem with the Serb at some point (although that is resolved now). However, the humble Rafael Nadal never spoke badly of Djokovic.
Of course, Nadal is one of the most fairplay and sportsmanlike players on tour.
Even when confronted with the most egregious behavior of his opponent, he will almost always remain courteous.
They don’t always see eye to eye on every topic, especially with Djokovic’s anti-vax stance.
There were also allegedly feelings of friction when Djokovic co-founded the Professional Tennis Players Association with Pospisil.
Nadal was a member of the ATP Player Council, so they don’t always agree on tennis politics.
But overall, these two bitter enemies on the court have great respect off the court and hold each other in very high regard.
As a tennis fan, I hope that the Spaniard and the Serb invite each other over for dinner one day and reminisce over the greatest rivalry tennis has ever seen.
As previously mentioned, Nadal isn’t one to start ranting about his fellow players in press conferences.
He has always been complimentary of Djokovic as a tennis player and regards him as one of his toughest opponents.
Toni Nadal, Nadal’s uncle who coached him for twenty-seven years, revealed in an interview that his nephew and Djokovic didn’t always get along but that they are friends now.
This was in 2017, and as the players have matured, faced injuries, and grown as people, their friendship is likely growing stronger.
It is worth pointing out that Nadal was less than impressed by the saga surrounding Djokovic and the 2022 Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal said:
“Honestly, I’m a little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis. I wish him all the best. I really respect him, even if I do not agree with a lot of things that he did the last couple of weeks.”
While a lot of the media saw this as criticizing Djokovic, that isn’t really the case. He was more irritated at the attention being taken away from the Australian Open.
Even with these disagreements that they have had, it is still clear that Nadal respects Djokovic a great amount.
Djokovic has pushed him further than any other opponent, and Nadal respects that a lot.
When they have both retired, their relationship will probably improve.
Novak Djokovic has great amounts of respect for Rafael Nadal:
“I respect Rafa, probably more than any other player in the world; he is the biggest rival I had in my life. Everything he has achieved, his dedication to tennis and the way he goes about practicing and tennis in general, these traits of his are worthy of admiration.”
As one of only two players to ever beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, no one has more experience with what an incredible tennis player the Spaniard is, and what a hard-working, mentally strong human being he also is.
Of course, he has also been on the other side of the little disagreements they have had, and he has had to answer some comments Nadal has made in the past.
However, he always re-emphasizes his respect for Nadal.
Due to the kind of player he is, Djokovic doesn’t believe that they can be friends while still competing. It is understandable; their rivalry is just too fierce.
However, Djokovic did have the following to say about Nadal, Murray, and Federer:
“One day, when we’ve all retired, I look forward to sitting down over a beer with them all, and their families, and remember what we went through.”
Despite the greatest rivalry in tennis in terms of matches played and also in terms of intensity, Nadal and Djokovic have the greatest respect for each other.
They have not yet been great friends, but they remain friendly.
When they have both retired, both players have expressed that they would become friends. Definitely not very close friends, but friends nonetheless.