American tennis legend John McEnroe insists Novak Djokovic's French Open campaign will take on added significance due to the absence of Rafael Nadal. The defending and 14-time champion - made the sad announcement he wouldn't be taking part at this year's Roland Garros grand slam after failing to overcome a hip injury that's plagued him since the Australian Open in January.
Nadal hasn't missed the French Open since 2004 and said he didn't take the decision lightly to withdraw from his favourite grand slam. However, the Spaniard's withdrawal has opened a massive door for his rivals to capitalise - none more so than Djokovic, who is tied with Nadal on a men's record 22 career majors.
Djokovic equalled Nadal's record grand slam tally with victory at the Australian Open, but it's been a difficult couple of years for the Serb, whose unvaccinated status has seen him miss major tournaments in the United States and infamously deported from Australia. McEnroe says the 36-year-old Serb has a huge chance at Roland Garros to surpass Nadal and become the most successful men's player in history, with the end of his career likely to come sooner rather than later.
“It’s his quest to be the best ever and win the most majors so right now it looks like he's the only guy left who could break more records,” McEnroe said about Djokovic. “He's tied with Rafa so this is an opening.
"He's had a tough year and a half in a lot of ways and he's also done some incredible things. Novak, he's always looking for some inspiration, some fuel, and he's got some now and he's got a great chance.”
Djokovic will be seeded third at the French Open behind World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, whose victory at the Italian Open saw the Russian leapfrog the Serb. It came as a blow to Djokovic, who could now be pitted against Alcaraz - considered by most to be the biggest threat to the Serb's title hopes.
However, McEnroe argues that the absence of Nadal has opened the door for a number of players to claim the Roland Garros trophy. “It's much more open, you have Novak who's won it twice, and then it becomes much more wide open after that. So, I think from that standpoint, it's exciting.
“The ideal would have been if Rafa was still playing at a very high level, and someone was good enough to beat him when he's playing great. That is what people really wanted to see, I think, which obviously only happened a couple of times at Roland-Garros where someone could beat him and outplay him. But having said that, I think it's going to be an exciting tournament to see what plays out.”
'End of an era' approaching in men's tennis
The American tennis great says the French Open is even more important to Djokovic due to the fact the era of the 'Big Three' is coming to an end. Nadal and Roger Federer's absence marks the first time since 1998 at least one of the duo won't be taking part in the clay court grand slam.
“We're approaching obviously the end of an era. I mean, this has been going on for 15 years, if not longer, so it's unbelievable, but everything at some point ends," McEnroe added. Novak is 36 now and he seems to be incredible for the most part and his body still seems to be able to do what he wants, but at some point, you think in the near future, that's going to change.
"It’s just a question of how long can you keep going, that's why you're seeing young guys, finally... It's taken almost a generation and skipped like all these people that didn't win much like [Alexander] Zverev, [Daniil] Medvedev won one, [Dominic] Thiem won one. There's a lot of guys that didn't win any you know, now you got these 20 year olds in Alcaraz and Rune, who’s the next guy, I pick him as the third or fourth guy ahead of these other guys.
“The young bucks are finally starting to emerge, but you have to wait and see if they're mentally ready to you know, Alcaraz proved he was at the US Open but now you have to see if Rune is capable of making that step to win something like this, but right now if you asked me, I would say Alcaraz would be the slight favourite to win this.”
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