Nadal vs Djokovic: GOAT, head-to-head, stats, all you need to know about the rivalry

The rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is the most prolific in tennis history. Head-to-head, greatest matches, stats: here is our guide.

Rafael Nadal et Novak Djokovic lors d'une exhibition à Milan en 2016

Nadal vs Djokovic: Head-to-head

The rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is one of the most remarkable in tennis history and the arguably greatest rivalry of the last decade. 

It is the most prolific in the Open era. The two men have faced each other 57 times, more than any other player. Djokovic leads their head-to-head 29 wins to 28. The Serb is also the one who has won the most finals: 15 to 13 for the Spaniard. But Nadal has won the most of their 16 Grand Slam meetings. He triumphed 10 times, losing 6 times.  

Out of these 57 matches, 27 were played on hard courts, 26 on clay, and 4 on grass. The two champions have met in the finals of all four Grand Slam tournaments. Remarkably, they form the only male pair in Open Era history to have met in four consecutive major finals, from Wimbledon 2011 to Roland Garros 2012. 

The style of play of the two players, two of the best defenders in history, makes their clashes different from their matches against Roger Federer. 

Their first confrontation took place in the 2006 French Open quarter-finals. Djokovic retired in the third set, with Nadal leading two sets to love. 

The first part of their rivalry, from 2006 to 2010, was overshadowed by the one between Nadal and Roger Federer. It was also dominated by the Spaniard, who defeated Djokovic 16 times, losing only 7 times. 

From 2011 to 2016, Djokovic prevailed, with a 19-7 record. From March 2011 to April 2013, their rivalry is structuring men’s tennis: their 11 games occurred in the finals. 

Since 2017, a new balance of power surged, as the two champions have each won three of their six meetings. 

Novak Djokovic is the player who most challenged Rafael Nadal on clay, having beaten him 7 times (for 19 losses). The Serb is the only player to have beaten the Spaniard in four clay-court finals and the only active player to have beaten him at Roland Garros (in three sets in 2015). 

A complete list of their matches is available on the ATP website

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the net after their 54th meeting in Rome in 2019.Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the net after their 54th meeting in Rome in 2019.

Nadal vs Djokovic: Who is the best?

It is impossible to rank these two champions and establish who might be the GOAT (Greatest Of All-Time), especially since their careers are not over. Nevertheless, here are a few numbers to compare them. 

As of June 2021, Nadal has won 20 Grand Slam titles, two more than Novak Djokovic (18). 

Rafael Nadal has won 88 ATP titles in his career, which can be broken down as follows: 

  • Grand Slam: 20
  • Masters : 0
  • Masters 1000 : 36
  • ATP 500: 22
  • ATP 250 : 9

He also lost 37 finals, including 8 in Grand Slams. 

Rafael Nadal has won the Davis Cup five times with Spain ; in 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2019. 

The Spaniard won the gold medal in singles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a gold medal in doubles with Marc Lopez at the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Novak Djokovic, who turned pro five years after Federer, has won 83 ATP titles in his career, which can be broken down as follows: 

  • Grand Slam: 18
  • Masters : 6
  • Masters 1000 : 36
  • ATP 500: 14
  • ATP 250 : 10

He also lost 35 finals, 10 of them in Grand Slams.  

Novak Djokovic lifted the Davis Cup in 2010 with Serbia. 

The Serb won the bronze medal in singles at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. 

Nadal et Djokovic posent avec leur trophées à Monte-Carlo en 2013.
Nadal and Djokovic pose with their trophies in Monte-Carlo in 2013.

Novak Djokovic is the only player to have won at every Masters 1000 event in his career (Miami, Indian Wells, Monte-Carlo, Madrid, Rome, Montreal / Toronto, Cincinnati, Shanghai, Paris, and World Tour Finals). Nadal did not win those in Miami, where he lost several times in the final, and Paris, where he played a final in 2007. He never won at the World Tour Finals, which constitutes the biggest flaw in his prize list.

Nadal has finished 5 seasons ranked world number 1. Nadal did in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2019. Djokovic now has six – in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2020. Since 2010, only Andy Murray in 2016 has prevented Djokovic or Nadal from finishing a year at the top of the ATP ranking. 

As of April 2020, Rafael Nadal has been world number 1 for 209 weeks. That is less than Djokovic, who has topped the ranking for 324 weeks, breaking Federer’s record of 310 weeks at number 1. 

Nadal vs Djokovic: Who has the best stats?

Rafael Nadal has won 1022 matches in his career, compared to Djokovic’s 954 (all figures as of June 2021). But Djokovic is one year younger. 

Rafael Nada has won 83.2% of the matches he played in his career (1022 wins to 207 losses). 

Novak Djokovic has won 83.0% of the matches he played in his career (954 wins to 195 losses).

  • On hard courts, Djokovic has won 84.3% of his matches, a better percentage than Nadal, who is 77.9%. 
  • On clay, Nadal, the “king of clay”, has won 91.6% of his matches, compared to 80% for Djokovic. 
  • On grass, Djokovic has won 84.1% of his matches, more than Nadal, who has won 78.0%. 

Nadal has a 55% career point winning ratio, a bit more than Djokovic’s 54%. They have similar serving stats: they have won 67% of points on their serve (Federer is 70% on serve). They are probably the two best returners on the tour: they have both won an impressive 42% of return points in their career (Federer is only 40% for instance).

La finale de l'Open d'Australie 2012 est le plus grand match entre les deux champions.
Nadal and Djokovic during the 2012 Australian Open final

What is the greatest match between Nadal and Djokovic?

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played some famous matches over the years. Let’s enjoy a throwback in 5 of their greatest meetings. All five long and brutal!    

2012 Australian Open final

The 2012 Australian Open final is undeniably the most memorable of their encounters. It is also arguably one of the greatest matches in history, if not the greatest. The third Grand Slam final in a row between the two men, number 1 and 2 in the world, symbolized their rivalry: a battle of unprecedented commitment and brutality. 

Djokovic took on this match with a significant psychological edge. He had won all seven of his seven encounters with Nadal in 2011, each time in the final. But the Serb had just played two days earlier an extraordinary 4:50 semi-final against Andy Murray, won 7-5 in the fifth set.

Nadal won the first set, and had never lost a Grand Slam final doing so. Yet the Serb reversed the trend and seemed to be heading for a 4-set win when, at 4-3 in his favour, he led 0-40 on Nadal’s serve. 

Nadal held on, kept battling for every point, and eventually snatched the fourth set. He celebrates the win as if he had won the tournament on his knees. The Spaniard carried on to get the break first in the fifth set. Yet Djokovic rallied from a 2-4 deficit and fought back by taking again the Nadal serve. 

In an unbreathable atmosphere, at more than 1:30 am local time, Djokovic saved a last breakpoint on his serve, then converted his first match point with a stunning forehand winner to claim a dramatic victory, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5. 

The Serb then took his shirt off and roared in a celebration that will be remembered . The award ceremony only added to the match’s legend. As the two men, exhausted and struggling to stay on their feet, the sponsors’ speeches went on and on. Eventually, organisers took pity, brought chairs and bottles of water.

With 5:53, this match is the longest Grand Slam final in history. The two best defenders fought in an astonishing endurance contest. Djokovic finished with 57 wins to 69 unforced errors, Nadal with 44 wins to 71 unforced errors.

This one was very special,” Nadal admitted in the press conference. “That’s probably a match that’s going to be in my mind not because I lost, no, because the way that we played.”

2013 French Open semi-final

Another marathon with exceptional drama. Back in June 2013, the French Open is the only Grand Slam Novak Djokovic has not won, and the Serb is going for the “Nole Slam” after having seized the last 3 Slams against Nadal in the finals. 

The Serb was a man on a mission. He was on his way to knock Nadal out of Roland-Garros when he served with a break lead at 4-3 in the fifth set. Nadal had never been so challenged in a fifth set at Roland-Garros. 

But at 40-40 on his serve, a point will cost Djokovic dearly: the Serb lost his balance in after rushing to hit a winning overhead, he hit the net and lost the point. On the next point, an unforced error of his gave Nadal the break back. The Spaniard then went in for the kill and prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7.

Wimbledon 2018 Semi-Final

For the first time in three years, the champions met again, in an early final to join Kevin Anderson in the final. They delivered once again a fight of unbelievable intensity and tennis quality.

Before this match, Nadal had not appeared again in the semi-finals at Wimbledon since his 2011 title, and Djokovic had not played a Slam semi-final since the 2016 US Open. 

Djokovic took a crucial step towards victory by winning a thrilling third-set tiebreak. The match had to be interrupted at the end of the third set due to Wimbledon’s 11 p.m. curfew. It had started at only 8:10 p.m. due to the extended semifinal match between Isner and Anderson. 

But Nadal seemed to come back as the best player the day after and snatched a fifth set. In the deciding set, the Spaniard got the first breakpoints at 4-4 and then 7-7. But Djokovic held his serve and finally won this classic 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8), 3-6, 10-8 after 5:16 of play. 

US Open final 2011

Djokovic’s “cosmic tennis” at its very best. Djokovic won 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-1 a final whose length (4h10) reflects better than the score the brutal intensity of the tennis produced.

The Serb produced one of its most flawless display against Nadal, with the 2019 Australian Open final he won 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, and the French Open quarter-final 2015 where he torpedoed the Spaniard in three sets (7-5, 6-3, 6-1).

2009 Masters 1000 Madrid semi-final

Their most legendary clash on the ATP tour. 4:10 long, this Madrid Masters 1000 semi-final is the longest match ever played in a Masters 1000 event.

Nadal won this fantastic fight 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (9) after saving three match points in a football-like atmosphere. “I played the best tennis match of my life. Two points decided the match. It’s very frustrating,” Djokovic said later in his press conference. 

Honourable mentions: US Open 2010 final, Miami 2011 final. 

What is the best point between Nadal and Djokovic? 

Find out some of the most beautiful points between Nadal and Djokovic on the ATP tour in this Tennis TV video: 

Who is the best in Grand Slams?

As of June 2021, Rafael Nadal has won 20 Grand Slam titles, the Serb 18. But these figures are set to evolve rapidly, as both men have won ten out of the last eleven Grand Slam titles. Nadal is one year older than Djokovic. 

Both players have won all four Grand Slam tournaments in their careers. 

Djokovic won 4 titles at Wimbledon, compared to Nadal’s 2; a record 9 titles at the Australian Open, compared to 1 for Nadal. But Nadal won the US Open four times, one more time than Djokovic (3), and triumphed 13 times at Roland Garros, while Djokovic has only won the title once there. 

In their Grand Slam meetings, Nadal leads 10-6. They met in 9 Grand Slam finals. 

  • At the Australian Open, Djokovic leads 2-0, both in the finals in 2012 and 2019.
  • In Paris, at the French Open, Nadal has defeated Djokovic six times, beating him three times in the final, in 2012, 2014 and 2020.
  • At Wimbledon, Djokovic leads 2-1 (Djokovic won their only meeting in the finals in 2011). 
  • In NY, at the US Open, Nadal leads 2-1, with all games played in the finals. The Spaniard won the 2010 and 2013 finals, and the Serbian won the 2011 final. 
Rafael Nadal félicite Novak Djokovic après sa victoire en quart de finale à Roland Garros en 2015
Rafael Nadal congratulating Novak Djokovic after he defeated him in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 2015.

Who has the best record against Roger Federer?

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both lead in their head-to-heads with Roger Federer, five and six years older than them respectively. 

Rafael Nadal has 24 wins to 16 losses against Roger Federer (as of April 2020). In the Grand Slam, Nadal has beaten his Swiss rival 10 times and lost four times. 

Novak Djokovic defeated the Swiss 27 times and lost 23. In Grand Slams, Novak also has a positive ratio: he leads 11-6 in their confrontations. He has not lost a Grand Slam match to Federer since Wimbledon 2012. 

Nadal et Djokovic à la mi-temps d'un match de Boca Juniors en marge d'une exhibition.

Nadal vs Djokovic: Are they friends?

“It’s kind of difficult” to be friends, says Novak Djokovic, because “we are rivals of course“, answering a question about his friendship with Nadal and Federer. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are meeting a lot on the tour aside from their matches, and “have always respected each other”, as great champions. 

Rafael Nadal, however, puts his relationship with Federer one notch above the one he has with the Serb. “It is true that with Federer I have lived more moments and spent more time with him than with Djokovic”, he admitted in an interview with Ultima Hora, before adding: “I have good relations with both and I think we have achieved that amongst us”. 

Nadal and Djokovic have played together at a few exhibitions, as in Milan in September 2016 to raise money for the Novak Djokovic Foundation, and in October 2019 in Kazakhstan to raise money for Rafael Nadal Foundation. “And as the days pass our relationship is getting better and better“, says the Mallorcan on his relationship with the Serb.

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