Riyadh: Novak Djokovic warned Wednesday he expects great rival Rafael Nadal is returning “to win a Grand Slam, not just to play” as the world No 1 prepares to defend his Australian Open title next month.
Nadal, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, makes his comeback after a near year-long injury absence at the Australian Open warm-up event in Brisbane starting on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Nadal has said that 2024 could be his final season without being able to “guarantee it 100 per cent”.
But Djokovic, 36, who won three Grand Slams in 2023 to overtake the Spaniard with a record 24, expects his rival to be as competitive as ever.
“I always expect him (Nadal) to play at his best, to be honest. Many times they’ve signed him out, they’ve done that with me as well. But we’ve proved them wrong,” Djokovic told journalists on the sidelines of an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in Riyadh.
“He’s not a kind of a player that will come back to the tour just to play — let’s say — on a medium level, play a few matches,” continued Djokovic.
“He wants to win titles, he wants to be the best, that’s why he is who he is: a legend of our sport. I’m sure that his training and preparation is done with an intention to win a Grand Slam.”
Nadal has not played since a second-round loss to American MacKenzie McDonald at the Australian Open a year ago.
He twice needed surgery after struggling with a hip injury and has slipped to 670th in the world rankings while sidelined.
Alcaraz added: “I think he’s ready ... I saw some videos of him practising, he’s 100 per cent.
“I hear from other players that they practised with Rafa in these past weeks and they said that he’s going to return to his good level. His top level.”
“I think he’s ready for great things this year as well,” added the world No 2 of his compatriot.