RAFAEL Nadal beat Novak Djokovic to an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam when he triumphed at the Australian Open last month.
Novak Djokovic will have used Rafael Nadal’s Australian Open win to ‘fuel the fire’ according to one of the sport’s most revered coaches. Darren Cahill, who has coached the likes of including Andy Murray, Ana Ivanovic, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Simona Halep, think the Spaniard’s success in Melbourne could inadvertently help the Serbian as he continues his bid to become the most successful Grand Slam player of all time.
That honour currently belongs to the Nadal, whose win at Melbourne Park represented an incredible comeback having undergone ankle surgery last August.
That ruled him out of the US Open, and his scheduled comeback in Abu Dhabi in December was then scuppered when he tested positive for Covid-19.
Despite his lack of match practice though, the 35-year-old won through to a final with Daniil Medvedev, who took on the mantra of top seed once Djokovic was ruled out of the tournament.
And in a final for the ages, Nadal fought back from two sets down to win 2-6 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 in a contest that ran just short of five and a half hours.
It took him to a total of 21 Grand Slam wins, having previously been tied on 20 with Djokovic and Swiss maestro Roger Federer.
And given his prestigious record at the French Open, an event Nadal has won 13 times, he is likely to be odds-on favourite to collect title no 22 at Roland Garros in May.
However, Cahill, 56, thinks Nadal’s success will be the incentive Djokovic needs to up his own game, assuming he returns to the sport following the explosive saga over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
“I think Novak uses this to fuel the fire he’s always played with, I think he’s still searching for improvement in his game, and I think we’ll still see an unbelievable level from Novak over the next couple of years,” the Australian told the New York Times.
Cahill even argued that should Djokovic, 34, play in France, then he will equal Nadal for the title of favourite – given he beat his rival en-route to winning the tournament in 2021.
“Obviously you’ve got to be able to beat Rafa over five sets on clay, and we’ve seen how difficult that’s been, but Novak has been pretty damn impressive there the last few years,” he added.
As for Federer, who remains sidelined after undergoing knee surgery last year, the Australian thinks being overhauled by his old rival could also spur him into returning with extra intent.
“I think what Rafa did can put a little fuel in Roger’s tank, too, Roger could say, ‘If Rafa is out there still doing it, why can’t I do it if I get healthy and still have that love of the game?’ So, I think this energises the Big Three,” he added.
Time however, is not on Federer’s side, with the 40-year-old almost certain not to play another Grand Slam until Wimbledon in June.
His last appearance in a Grand Slam final came at SW19 in that classic final with Djokovic, which he lost in five sets after holding match points.
His last major title win came at the Australian Open in 2018.