Ivanisevic on the Djokovic-Nadal battle: “It’s like a handball match: 22-22 at the moment”

Djokovic’s coach believes he and Rafael Nadal will continue to be the players to beat

Goran Ivanisevic, US Open 2023 © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Goran Ivanisevic has seen most things in his career with Novak Djokovic but when he says that the Serb’s victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas for the Australian Open title is the best achievement of his career, you tend to listen.

Djokovic’s victory over Tsitsipas gave him a 10th Australian Open title and pulled him level with Rafael Nadal on 22 Grand Slam titles, the joint-best in men’s Grand Slam history.

Ivanisevic praised Djokovic’s ability to overcome a hamstring injury and all the pressure of returning to the Australian Open, 12 months after he was sent home from the country over his refusal to have the Covid-19 vaccine.

“I don’t say 100% of the players but 97% of the players, on Saturday when you get results of the MRI, you go straight to the referee office and pull out of the tournament. But not him,” he said.

“He is from other space. His brain is working different. I’m with him four years, but it still sometimes how his brain work. He gave everything. 77 therapies a day. Every day was kind of better and better. I didn’t expect this. Honestly, I was shocked. Okay, first two rounds okay, but then against (Grigor) Dimitrov was very scared. But he got through and in the end he won the tournament.”

And Ivanisevic said he was looking forward to the two old men of the game (Djokovic is 35 and Nadal is 36), battling it out for supremacy this year and trying to fend off the youngsters.

“Battle of Spain against Serbia, it’s like a handball match. 22-22 for the moment. Now it’s going to be interesting this year,” Ivanisevic said.

“We talking about young guys. They’re here, it’s great for tennis, great for the future of tennis. But you still have these two guys battling. This was Novak’s home court, and now we going next one to Rafa’s home court in this handball match of 22-22.”

Djokovic’s win means he’ll leapfrog Carlos Alcaraz to regain the No 1 ranking but Ivanisevic said the battle at Roland-Garros may yet be between the top two in men’s history.

“Yes, they (the young players) are coming, Alcaraz, unbelievable. Still, if Rafa steps on the court on the French Open, for me he’s always the favourite to win the tournament.

“There are a lot of guys who can beat him, also Novak. But Rafa, it’s 14 times to win a tournament. It’s amazing. They really push each other.

Ivanisevic: “These two guys are going to have the last word”

Nadal is recovering from a hip injury but if he’s fit for Roland-Garros, Ivanisevic believes it’s between the big two yet again.

“I said eight or nine years ago that Novak and Rafa will go over Roger (Federer, who has 20). Back then people were looking at me like strangely. But we have 22-22. Two unbelievable competitors, two unbelievable tennis players, what they did for tennis.

“I’m looking forward. Looking forward, honestly, for both of them to be super healthy, then battle is there. And with the young guys who going to try to find backdoors to sneak and try to do something. But still these two guys, they going to have last word to say there.”

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