The Great Professional Rivalry! Federer, Nadal and Djokovic

tennis GOATs

It’s an era in which they shared the majority of Grand Slams amongst them(Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic), winning over 80% of the Grand Slams from 2003 onwards.

Consistently Winning, recovering from Injury, sticking to convictions, and not succumbing to fear of missing out, to name a few.

As Federer was the first to get started in this era, followed by Nadal, most of the fans aligned with either Federer or Nadal, and Djokovic came later. There is much discussion about how Djokovic could not gather the kind of support that Nadal and Federer enjoyed.

Imagine the kind of peer pressure between the three of them with very little to differentiate amongst them.

What Federer would have gone through when he narrowly missed an almost-winning chance in 2019 Wimbledon vs. Djokovic.  

(Djokovic trumped in a five-setter slogging out for five hours, and Federer missed two match points in the thrilling fifth Set).

Anyone who watched the match, and a Federer fan, might have found it hard to digest as this was the match which Federer almost won.

Had Federer won, he would have had his record books with 21 Grand Slams.

Let’s dial back to 2021 #US_Open.

Before the US Open 2021, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal were all tied for 20 Grand Slam titles. Anyone winning the US Open 2021 would have had the record of winning the highest number of grand slams.


Before the event, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer withdrew while recovering from injuries.


When Nadal was quizzed on Djokovic going past the 20-slam record, it’s worth reflecting on Nadal’s response and handling Professional Rivalry and Peer Pressure.

“The fact that Novak has 20, Roger has 20 and I have 20 doesn’t increase the motivation for me or the pressure. My approach will not change. I always say the same, I do my way. If Novak, Roger play theirs and win, okay well done for them, I will not be frustrated.

I know I achieved something I never dreamed about, and I am going to keep fighting for keep doing things,” – Rafael Nadal


As a twist to the story, Daniel Medvedev got the better of Djokovic in the 2021 US Open Finals, and the record stood even at 20-20-20. Djokovic missed the opportunity to get through to the elusive Calendar Slam, and in fact, he missed the chance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as well.


The scoreline amongst the greats still reads 20-20-20.

Then came the famous Australian Open 2022, wherein Djokovic got the initial exceptional clearance to travel without COVID-19 vaccination and then was forced to return due to revised guidelines for vaccination.

In the ensuing finals, Nadal won the Australian Open in 2022 and followed this with French Open in 2022.


Now Nadal is ahead with 22 Titles.


Despite the frustration that he could not participate in the Australian Open and missed the chance of rivaling Nadal, Djokovic went by his ways and stuck to his belief even if it meant missing an opportunity at the Grand Slams.


It did not matter that age was catching up, and the chance of basking in the glory of having the highest number of tiles could forever be gone.


Djokovic sticks to his beliefs continues training, and waits for his moment.

As the Vaccination requirement eases, he wins the 2022 Wimbledon2023 Australia, and 2023 French Open and gets to 23 Titles.


When reporters were quizzing Djokovic again after getting to 23 titles, what did he feel about GOAT status?

“I’ve said before they have defined me as a player. All the success I have, they contributed to it in a way…”

“It’s disrespectful towards great champions in other eras. Each great champion of his generation has left a huge mark and paved the way.”

“I’ve always compared myself to these guys, the two greatest rivals in my career,” Djokovic said.

“I leave these discussions to someone else.”


Just glancing through the story helps reflect on many aspects of what it takes to be a champion and how holding Mental Resilience, Strength, and composure has helped them see through their professional rivalries and challenges and manage to be on top.


It will be interesting to see what happens in the US Open 2023. Are we seeing an Alcaraz Era starting, or as Djokovic says, is 36 the new 26? Will Nadal recover and throw a surprise?

Would love to hear your thoughts on the great professional rivalry.

Picture of Murali Sunderraghavan

Murali Sunderraghavan

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