Richard Krajicek believes it will hurt Carlos Alcaraz's career if he compares himself too much to Rafael Nadal.

Alcaraz is being hailed as Spanish tennis' next big hope with Nadal nearing the end of a hugely decorated career, one that has seen him win 22 grand slam titles, two behind Novak Djokovic at the top of the all-time list.

Alcaraz himself has claimed two grand slams at the age of 20, winning the US Open in 2022 before following it up by claiming Wimbledon glory the following year.

Despite the comparisons, Krajicek hopes Alcaraz doesn't think too much about comparing himself with his countryman Nadal.

"If he starts to think about it or live up to it or try to beat it, then it will hinder his career, I think, a little bit," said Krajicek, speaking to Stats Perform at the Rotterdam Open. "But no, his name is Carlos Alcaraz. He said it himself. And he's not a new Nadal.

"Nadal is a legend. And he's going to do what he has to do. And I think by winning two grand slams, being number one, I don't think he [Alcaraz] feels any pressure or like, I have to do this or this.

"He's proved so much already. I don't think he has too much to prove. And he's just playing for the love of the game. He's going to win many more grand slams and be number one for many weeks also."

Krajicek thinks Alcaraz's all-round game has the potential to take him to the top, if he hasn't reached it already.

"I like everything about his game," Krajicek added. "I mean he's physically good, he's fast, I love his mentality on the court."

"Also like Rafa, [he is] a very humble person and he can do it all. He can play serve and volley, he plays from the base, he's got a big forehand, he's got a very good touch on the drop shot, he can volley."

Krajicek pointed to Alcaraz's affection for the sport of tennis as a particularly infectious part of his game.

"He really loves the game," Krajicek continued. 

"I think when he played the US Open, there was a huge point in the final and it was a really important point. And they were playing for number one in the world.

"It was one set all, and Alcaraz loses the point, but the point was unbelievable. And Alcaraz smiles to his box like, 'Wow, I just played a great point, and I love this game'.

"So for me, then I became a fan. I'm like, 'Wow, you really love this game'. That's so great to see."

Novak Djokovic is the greatest male tennis player of all time, according to Marcos Baghdatis.

Djokovic is the most decorated player in the history of the men's game, boasting 24 grand slam triumphs over a magnificent career. Even with Djokovic turning 36 in 2023, the Serbian won three of the four majors on offer throughout the year.

Rival Rafael Nadal, who has the second most grand slam titles among male players with 22, recently conceded Djokovic is the greatest ever.

Baghdatis agrees with Nadal that Djokovic's numbers make him the best of all time, with the 2006 Australian Open runner-up telling Stats Perform: "I think that yes, Rafa is right. He's the GOAT [greatest of all time].

"I mean, statistically, he has the best history written in tennis. Of course, he has written more history than any other player.

"It's tough to say who is the best and who's not. I can say, the three players from Rafa, Roger [Federer] and Djokovic, I think he [Djokovic] is the most complete, if you understand what I mean.

"He's still there, he's still winning matches, still winning Grand Slams.

"So yeah, he's the best of all time because of the stats, but it's very hard to just get the other two out."

Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are often referred to as the 'big three', and Baghdatis believes the trio helped to move tennis forward. However, he also says Andy Murray deserves greater recognition despite failing to match his rivals' grand slam accomplishments.

"I cannot take Andy Murray out of there," Baghdatis said. "Because, you know, he was always taking them to their limits too.

"I think it's a package that these four people changed the sport for the better. Yeah, they helped each other improve themselves, but at the same time, they helped so many other players improve themselves and be better at what they do. So they left a legacy behind."

With Federer retired and Djokovic and Nadal in the latter stages of their careers, Carlos Alcaraz is seen by many as the next potential legend of the sport, having already claimed US Open and Wimbledon glory.

While Baghdatis feels Alcaraz is a great talent, he also believes other youngsters deserve credit, saying: "I'm not saying that Alcaraz cannot [become a legend], of course he has a shot at it. 

"He's young. I think he's great for tennis, he has great energy on the court, a great personality.

"I think maybe right now he's the best of his generation, let's say, but Jannik Sinner, Holger Rune are coming up, [Daniil] Medvedev is still there.

"But it's going to be very tough. I think he has a shot. It's going to be very, very tough to achieve what they [the big three] have achieved."

Opportunities abound for returning stars and the usual suspects as the Australian Open kicks off the new grand-slam season.

Hopes that two of the highest-profile major champions would make their slam comebacks after long breaks were dashed when Rafael Nadal announced on Sunday that he had suffered another injury setback.

Having spent a year recovering from the hip injury he sustained in Melbourne 12 months ago, the hope is this latest blow will not prove to be nearly as serious and he can return within weeks.

The Spaniard impressed straight away with his level at the Brisbane International last week prior to a gruelling loss against Jordan Thompson.

 

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Question marks very much remain, though, over how well the 37-year-old’s body will hold up in the long term given the injury problems he has endured throughout his career.

“I have worked very hard during the year for this comeback and as I always mentioned my goal is to be at my best level in three months,” Nadal wrote on social media.

“Within the sad news for me for not being able to play in front of the amazing Melbourne crowds, this is not very bad news and we all remain positive with the evolution for the season.”

Naomi Osaka also returned in Brisbane, playing her first tournament since September 2022 following the birth of daughter Shai in July, and she will be a headline attraction in Melbourne.

 

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The 26-year-old, who won the Australian Open title in 2019 and 2021, was weighing up whether tennis was for her amid mental health struggles prior to her pregnancy but has returned to the tour with renewed desire.

She said after a narrow loss to Karolina Pliskova: “I think when I’m playing and I’m at my best, I’m just really putting my entire soul into every point. It was fun to play that and rediscover that feeling again.”

Also returning after having her first child is former Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion Angelique Kerber.

Emma Raducanu’s absence has not been as long as Nadal, Osaka or Kerber’s but it is still a chance for a fresh start for the 21-year-old.

 

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She snuck into the main draw using her protected ranking of 103 following withdrawals and will hope to build on a very promising return in Auckland last week.

“It’s pretty exciting for me,” said Raducanu. “I’ve only played two matches and also my court time has been pretty limited. To be back up to this speed after so little is a great sign. I’m looking forward to this season. It’s just the beginning. A lot more to come.”

Raducanu is one of seven British players in the main draw, with Cameron Norrie the only seed.

It was a difficult second half of 2023 for the British number one but victory over Alex De Minaur at the United Cup was a good way to start the year while Katie Boulter got off to a flyer with the best win of her career against Jessica Pegula.

The 27-year-old has reached the third round at the last two grand slams and will be looking for more of the same.

Andy Murray is a man in need of wins and must hope for a kind draw, while the same could lead to a big fortnight for 22-year-old Jack Draper, with Dan Evans and Jodie Burrage making up the British contingent.

Novak Djokovic will be favourite to claim an 11th Australian Open title, which would make him the first player in history to win 25 grand-slam singles crowns, although a wrist problem is a concern for the Serbian.

Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner and Daniil Medvedev will be expected to provide the main opposition while in the women’s draw Aryna Sabalenka defends a slam title for the first time.

World number one Iga Swiatek is yet to lift the trophy in Melbourne and has begun 2024 in fine form, as has Coco Gauff, who is the most recent slam champion following her triumph in New York.

Opportunities abound for returning stars and the usual suspects as the Australian Open kicks off the new grand-slam season.

Hopes that two of the highest-profile major champions would make their slam comebacks after long breaks were dashed when Rafael Nadal announced on Sunday that he had suffered another injury setback.

Having spent a year recovering from the hip injury he sustained in Melbourne 12 months ago, the hope is this latest blow will not prove to be nearly as serious and he can return within weeks.

The Spaniard impressed straight away with his level at the Brisbane International last week prior to a gruelling loss against Jordan Thompson.

 

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A post shared by Rafa Nadal (@rafaelnadal)

 

Question marks very much remain, though, over how well the 37-year-old’s body will hold up in the long term given the injury problems he has endured throughout his career.

“I have worked very hard during the year for this comeback and as I always mentioned my goal is to be at my best level in three months,” Nadal wrote on social media.

“Within the sad news for me for not being able to play in front of the amazing Melbourne crowds, this is not very bad news and we all remain positive with the evolution for the season.”

Naomi Osaka also returned in Brisbane, playing her first tournament since September 2022 following the birth of daughter Shai in July, and she will be a headline attraction in Melbourne.

 

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The 26-year-old, who won the Australian Open title in 2019 and 2021, was weighing up whether tennis was for her amid mental health struggles prior to her pregnancy but has returned to the tour with renewed desire.

She said after a narrow loss to Karolina Pliskova: “I think when I’m playing and I’m at my best, I’m just really putting my entire soul into every point. It was fun to play that and rediscover that feeling again.”

Also returning after having her first child is former Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion Angelique Kerber.

Emma Raducanu’s absence has not been as long as Nadal, Osaka or Kerber’s but it is still a chance for a fresh start for the 21-year-old.

 

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She snuck into the main draw using her protected ranking of 103 following withdrawals and will hope to build on a very promising return in Auckland last week.

“It’s pretty exciting for me,” said Raducanu. “I’ve only played two matches and also my court time has been pretty limited. To be back up to this speed after so little is a great sign. I’m looking forward to this season. It’s just the beginning. A lot more to come.”

Raducanu is one of seven British players in the main draw, with Cameron Norrie the only seed.

It was a difficult second half of 2023 for the British number one but victory over Alex De Minaur at the United Cup was a good way to start the year while Katie Boulter got off to a flyer with the best win of her career against Jessica Pegula.

The 27-year-old has reached the third round at the last two grand slams and will be looking for more of the same.

Andy Murray is a man in need of wins and must hope for a kind draw, while the same could lead to a big fortnight for 22-year-old Jack Draper, with Dan Evans and Jodie Burrage making up the British contingent.

Novak Djokovic will be favourite to claim an 11th Australian Open title, which would make him the first player in history to win 25 grand-slam singles crowns, although a wrist problem is a concern for the Serbian.

Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner and Daniil Medvedev will be expected to provide the main opposition while in the women’s draw Aryna Sabalenka defends a slam title for the first time.

World number one Iga Swiatek is yet to lift the trophy in Melbourne and has begun 2024 in fine form, as has Coco Gauff, who is the most recent slam champion following her triumph in New York.

Several familiar faces will return to grand-slam action at the Australian Open after extended breaks.

Injury has unfortunately postponed Rafael Nadal’s slam comeback but fellow former champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber return along with Britain’s Emma Raducanu.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the returning players.

Naomi Osaka

Osaka’s opening-round match in Brisbane last week was her first since September 2022. It was last January when the Japanese player revealed she was expecting her first child and would miss the season. Baby Shai arrived in July and the break appears to have given Osaka, who missed major chunks of 2022 because of her mental health, a new perspective and a fresh hunger for the sport. Melbourne Park’s courts suit the 26-year-old well, and the 2019 and 2021 champion will be a name other players will hope to avoid in the draw.

Emma Raducanu

 

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While not sidelined for as long as Nadal or Osaka, Raducanu has not played a grand-slam match since a second-round loss to Coco Gauff in Melbourne 12 months ago. After battling consistent niggling injuries since her US Open triumph, in May the 21-year-old opted to have surgery on both wrists and one ankle and was not seen on the match court again in 2023. While strong opinions abound regarding Raducanu’s approach to her career, her talent is not in doubt and the biggest question mark remains whether her body can hold up to the rigours of professional tennis.

Angelique Kerber

Tennis fans could have been forgiven for thinking former Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion Kerber had retired. Instead, after being off the tour since Wimbledon 2022 and nearly a year after the birth of daughter Liana, the German is back. Kerber will turn 36 this month and her grand slam winning days are surely behind her but she joins a growing gang of mums on tour.

Marin Cilic

Another veteran on the comeback trail is 35-year-old former US Open champion Cilic. The Croatian, a finalist in Melbourne in 2018, only played two matches in 2023 because of a knee injury.

Amanda Anisimova

A tennis prodigy who reached the French Open semi-finals as a 17-year-old in 2019, Anisimova’s career understandably stalled following the untimely death of her father and coach Konstantin later the same year. In May last year, the American, who is still only 22, announced she was taking an indefinite break from the sport, citing burnout and mental health issues. “I slowed my life down and that’s something that I really needed,” Anisimova told the WTA on her return in Auckland last week.

Rafael Nadal will miss the Australian Open after sustaining an injury during the Brisbane International earlier this week.

The 37-year-old Spaniard, who had surgery on the psoas tendon in his left hip in June, was making his comeback at the Brisbane tournament.

Nadal required medical treatment during his quarter-final loss to Jordan Thompson, and the 22-time grand slam champion said in a post on X: “During my last match in Brisbane I had a small problem on a muscle that as you know made me worried.

“Once I got to Melbourne I have had the chance to make an MRI and I have micro tear on a muscle, not in the same part where I had the injury and that’s good news.

“Right now I am not ready to compete at the maximum level of exigence in five sets matches. I’m flying back to Spain to see my doctor, get some treatment and rest.”

He added: “I have worked very hard during the year for this comeback and as I always mentioned my goal is to be at my best level in three months.

“Within the sad news for me for not being able to play in front of the amazing Melbourne crowds, this is not very bad news and we all remain positive with the evolution for the season.

“I really wanted to play here in Australia and I have had the chance to play a few matches that made me very happy and positive. Thanks all for the support and see you soon!”

Rafael Nadal is keeping his fingers crossed he will be able to play in the Australian Open after needing medical treatment during a gruelling loss to Jordan Thompson at his comeback tournament.

Nadal looked poised to claim another straight-sets win at the Brisbane International when he brought up a first match point in the 10th game of the second set but missed a backhand overhead.

Two more chances followed in the tie-break but Nadal was unable to take either and Australian Thompson fought back to claim a 5-7 7-6 (6) 6-3 victory after three hours and 25 minutes.

More concerning was the off-court medical time-out Nadal took at 1-4 in the deciding set, although he was able to continue without too much apparent discomfort.

The 37-year-old had surgery on the psoas tendon in his left hip in June after being sidelined since suffering an injury at last January’s Australian Open and revealed the latest problem is in the same area.

“I feel the muscle tired,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

“I mean, for sure it’s not the same like last year at all because when it happened I felt something drastic immediately. Today I didn’t feel anything. The only problem is because the place is the same, you are a little bit more scared than usual.

“I need to see how I wake up tomorrow morning. We have been talking these last days, talking about the positive things. That’s why I am not over-positive when I have been talking.

“I have been talking with a lot of precaution because I know after a year is difficult for the body to be playing tournaments at the highest level. When the things are becoming more difficult, you don’t know how your body is going to react.

“I hope it is not important and I hope to have the chance to be practising next week and to play Melbourne. Honestly, I am not 100 per cent sure of anything now.”

Thompson will take on second seed Grigor Dimitrov in the semi-finals, while top seed Holger Rune faces Russian Roman Safiullin.

In the women’s event, top seed Aryna Sabalenka continued to look sharp in a 6-1 6-4 victory over Daria Kasatkina, her 14th straight win in Australia, while second seed Elena Rybakina was a set up on Anastasia Potapova when the Russian retired.

Sabalenka will take on fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka in the last four after she battled past Jelena Ostapenko, while Czech Linda Noskova won the battle of the teenagers against 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva.

At the ASB Classic in Auckland, defending champion Coco Gauff and second seed Elina Svitolina both eased into the semi-finals, while Alexander Zverev defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas to help Germany defeat Greece in the United Cup quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, Harriet Dart reached the biggest final of her career at the WTA 125 event in Canberra, battling to a 7-5 3-6 7-5 victory over American Katie Volynets, and Heather Watson is through to the doubles final in Brisbane with Belgian Greet Minnen.

Rafael Nadal's return from injury will be "great for tennis", says world number eight Holger Rune, as the Spaniard builds towards an appearance at next month's Australian Open.

Nadal will return after close to a year on the sidelines at the Brisbane International, which runs from December 31 to January 7, as he targets a bid for a 23rd grand slam title at Melbourne Park later in January.

The 37-year-old has not competed since this year's edition of the Australian Open, having suffered a hip injury during a surprise second-round defeat to Mackenzie McDonald.

Nadal attempted to recover from his injury before the start of the French Open in May, only to be forced to withdraw from that tournament and undergo season-ending surgery.

The 'King of Clay' has said 2024 will likely be his final year on the tour, and while Rune accepts it will be difficult for Nadal to recapture his best form, the Dane is excited to see how he fares.

"It's great for tennis that Rafa is coming back," Rune said. "It brings even more fans to the tournaments and more excitement for the sport. I think this is good. 

"We're going to have Novak [Djokovic], Rafa, [Carlos] Alcaraz, [Jannik] Sinner and more guys for the Australian Open. That's going to be super fun and it's exciting to see how it's going to go.

"You see some videos where he's practicing hard, but of course it's always difficult to come back and play after so long. But I'm excited to see it."

Jack Draper was the last player to lose to Nadal, going down in four sets in the first round of the 2023 Australian Open, and he is keen for a chance to avenge that defeat next year.

"I mean, I think it's amazing for tennis. Obviously, he's put in a lot of hard work to be back on tour, I'm seeing lots of videos of him training very intensely," Draper said.

"It's just good for the spectators, the players, that someone of his calibre – one of the greatest of all time – is back playing.

"I hope I get a chance to play him again because I think I was one of the last people to play him. It'll be amazing to have him back on the tour."

World number 32 Alexander Bublik echoed those sentiments, adding he was excited to see who will have the honour of being Nadal's final opponent if – as expected – he retires next year.

"Of course, it's very exciting that Rafa is coming back," Bublik said. "He's a legend of our game.

"But I just discussed it with Holger… I'm more excited to think who is going to play him in his last match, who he's going to finish such a legendary career against. 

"So for me, it's an exciting time. We'll see how he comes back but he's going to bring a lot to the game."

Novak Djokovic could still win three majors next year but Gilles Simon reminded tennis fans the world number one is not "eternal" as he heads towards the end of his career.

Djokovic triumphed in three of the four majors in 2023, with September's US Open success taking him level with Margaret Court's record 24 grand slam triumphs.

Defeating Daniil Medvedev in the final, Djokovic – aged 36 years and 111 days – became the oldest winner of the men's singles title at the US Open, as well as winning a trio of majors in a year for the fourth time.

That saw him surpass Roger Federer – who won three grand slams in a year on three occasions.

Simon, though, warned that Djokovic cannot play on forever.

He told Stats Perform: "I think he can win some [majors, but] I think he's getting to an age where it is going to become difficult.

"Most of the observers want to believe that a player is eternal but none are more eternal than the others.

"I think he can win a lot next year; will he win one, two or three? Next year he can do one more big year, but I also think that it will be his last."

 

The 36-year-old Djokovic acknowledged the retirement speculation after his US Open victory, asking how long he can continue.

Simon likened the twilight of Djokovic's career to fellow great Federer, whose playing days were curtailed by injury and fitness issues.

"At one point like every player there's going to be a break, that was the case for Roger Federer, remember when he won in Australia at the age of 37 playing incredible tennis," Simon added.

"At Wimbledon, he could have won because he lost against Novak Djokovic on match point. Time never had a grip on him, he had never been injured, he played really well, and then all of a sudden he disappears."

Another of tennis' 'Big Three', Rafael Nadal has not played since January 18 at the Australian Open – again owing to injury problems as years of toiling on the court takes its toll on even the best.

"We have Rafael Nadal who we hope to see again next year, who got us accustomed to more traditional injuries, longer injuries and with doubts," Simon continued.

"Once again he wins the Australian Open, he wins at Roland Garros even with his history with his foot, he again has a semi-final at Wimbledon.

"We say no about Novak because he is more careful, but we said the same about Federer, he expends less energy, he has a more fluid game and technique, he preserved himself from injury.

"I think next year will be very interesting because it’s a year where he can again win, where he still has an advantage [ahead of the rest] but we saw him lose against [Carlos] Alcaraz at Wimbledon.

"I thought he would have more advantage on grass because of the experience he has compared to others and his game works so well on grass – but he is beatable."

Age has shown no sign of slowing Djokovic down yet after he lifted the Paris Masters trophy for a seventh time on Sunday, defeating Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets.

That victory marked his second hard-court ATP-1000 title of 2023, Djokovic managing multiple Masters titles in a single season for the ninth time in his career. Only Federer, having won multiple such events in a year six times in his time, can get near to that feat.

Yet Simon suggested 30 major triumphs may be out of Djokovic's reach due to the emergence of Alcaraz, who won at Wimbledon this year, and a gruelling schedule.

"He's so strong he knows how to prepare himself, but he can't do a series of tournaments," said the Frenchman, who won 14 career titles and reached a high of number six in the ATP rankings.

"If everything was going well he would be playing every week like when he was 25 years old, so that is what is missing.

"He looks after himself, ultra-professional and very strong. The US Open was important for him, I see him maybe doing one or two next year, but I am waiting to see for the next few years after that.

"I can't see him reaching 30 [majors] for example when Carlos Alcaraz could win two or three a year – I wish it for him but I don't see it like that."

The Rolex Paris Masters became the first Masters 1000 to broadcast its qualifying matches on Twitch, live on Rivenzi's channel.

Rafael Nadal is set to return to grand slam tennis at the 2024 Australian Open, tournament director Craig Tiley has announced.

The 37-year-old has not been in action since suffering a hip flexor injury during his second-round defeat to Mackenzie McDonald during the 2023 edition in Melbourne.

Earlier this year, Nadal announced he would miss the French Open, where he has claimed 14 of his 22 major titles, as he was undergoing surgery on the issue.

 

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His inactivity has seen the Spaniard slide down to 240th in the world, but Nadal will be able to rely on a protected ranking for the first grand slam of the 2024 calendar.

Speaking in an interview on Australian breakfast TV programme The Today Show, Tennis Australia chief executive Tiley said: “We can reveal exclusively here that Rafa will be back.

“He’s been off for most of the year and in talking to him over the last few days he confirmed he will be back, which we’re really excited about, the champion of 2022. That’s awesome.”

Tiley also revealed “some of the greats” will be making their way Down Under, with former women’s singles champions Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber all lined up for returns.

“We’ll welcome them – and their families – back to Melbourne with open arms and can’t wait to see what their next chapter brings,” he added.

Home favourite Nick Kyrgios, who has played only one ATP Tour match in 2023 due to injuries, has returned to training and is hopeful of being fit for Melbourne, with Tiley adding that he was “doing his utmost to get back to his best”.

Feliciano Lopez has doubts whether Spain's golden generation led by Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz will ever be replicated.

With Nadal's glittering career nearing its end, the torch for Spanish tennis has been passed on to Alcaraz, who at just 20 has already won Wimbledon and the US Open.

The pair have now combined for over half of Spain's grand slam titles, and while Lopez feels his nation will have more success in the future, the former world number 12 has concerns whether it will match the levels that Nadal produced. 

"I believe that we are not going to experience the generation of Spanish tennis players that we lived through again," Lopez told Stats Perform. "People have to be clear about that.

"But that does not mean that there will not be other great tennis players that will represent the country very well in the coming years.

"I don't know Spanish tennis in the minor categories, beyond some names that have been told to me, but I know that there are kids of 16 or 17 who play well.

"In the end, I think Spanish tennis has been in a place that is very difficult to get back to, but I'm sure that apart from Carlitos, there will be other young players who will bring us joy during the next four, five or six years."

Alcaraz has reached at least the semi-finals in the last four grand slam tournaments he has played, winning two of them, and Lopez has faith that he can carry the torch for Spanish tennis once Nadal calls it a day.

"Spanish tennis is in the hands of Carlitos and when Rafa announces his retirement, the entire country will want him to win," Lopez added. 

"He has already won two grand slams and has been number one. It is a blessing to have a player like Carlos at a time when Rafa has a year left to retire."

Nadal's decorated career has coincided with a great era of Spanish sport, with the nation's male and female football teams both winning World Cup titles while they have also enjoyed success in the likes of basketball and motorsport.

Lopez takes pride in his country's sporting achievements, explaining: "A country like Spain that is not a world power, and sport does not have the aid that neighbouring countries invest, in the last 20 years, has not stopped winning titles in all disciplines: Tennis, football, and basketball."

Rafael Nadal is unlikely to match Novak Djokovic's haul of 24 grand slam titles, but the Spaniard is capable of capping his remarkable career with one last Roland Garros triumph next year. 

That is the opinion of Feliciano Lopez, who hopes to see Nadal overcome his injury woes to enjoy a triumphant send-off in 2024.

Nadal's total of 22 grand slam titles is only bettered by Djokovic among male players, with the Serbian matching Margaret Court's overall record by winning the US Open.

Djokovic has won three of four grand slams in 2023, with injuries leading Nadal to miss the last three majors after he was eliminated from the Australian Open by Mackenzie McDonald in January.

Nadal confirmed earlier this year that 2024 would "probably" be his last year on the tour, and former world number nine Lopez is desperate to see his compatriot go out on a high.

Asked if Nadal could add to his 14 French Open titles – a single-slam record – next year, Lopez told Stats Perform: "With Rafa, you never know, because he has shown on other occasions that he was able to come back stronger, even when he had significant injuries. 

"It will depend a lot on how he feels physically, that will be key. I wouldn't be surprised to see him competing at a good level next year and I would love for him to say goodbye by winning Roland Garros. 

"It would be a dream for me and many people to see him lift that cup once again.

"It is very difficult for me to talk about Rafa, because he has changed the way we see sport in Spain. Before Rafa we had great athletes, but none transcended sport the way he has.

"Rafa's figure in Spanish sport and in the lives of Spanish people… there will be none like him. 

"There have been many joys that he has given us. He has given us examples in many situations outside of sports. There will be a before and after [Nadal] in Spanish sport."

While Nadal now looks highly unlikely to match the evergreen Djokovic for total grand slam titles, Lopez does not believe that will concern the 37-year-old.

"The issue of numbers and who is bigger than who fuels the media a lot," Lopez added. "At this moment in Rafa's life, I don't think he is thinking about that.

"With the numbers, we can see who won the most things, but that is not the question. I want him to return so he can compete again for one last year at the highest level. 

"Hopefully he wins one or two more grand slams, but right now, his goal is to recover and be physically competitive. 

"That is what Rafa needs and wants, because if he is not feeling well enough to compete, it will be very difficult for him to be able to play many tournaments next year." 

Iva Majoli sees shades of both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic within Carlos Alcaraz.

Spaniard Alcaraz cemented his place as world number one by beating Djokovic in five sets to clinch the Wimbledon title earlier in July.

That marked Alcaraz's second major title following his US Open triumph last year, his sixth crown of 2023 and his 12th tournament win overall.

Alcaraz is often compared to his compatriot Nadal, but Majoli – who won the French Open in 1997 – believes there is an element of Djokovic to the 20-year-old's game too.

Asked which of the 'big three' of Nadal, Djokovic and the retired Roger Federer that Alcaraz can be most compared with, Majoli told Stats Perform: "Rafa was his idol growing up and he's a Spaniard, so I would probably put him as closest to Rafa, but I think he also has some touches from Novak.

"Maybe the least from Federer, but I would say between Rafa and Novak there are many amazing things."

Alcaraz is the figurehead of a new generation of talents.

Majoli added: "Holger Rune is another youngster also in the top five or top six in the world. So I think this could be an amazing battle in the next couple of years.

"But of course, there is also Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Casper Ruud, there are so many players, who are still very young. It's an amazing generation that's going to be led by Carlos Alcaraz."

Djokovic's defeat to Alcaraz at Wimbledon ended the 36-year-old's hopes of sealing the Grand Slam this year, but Majoli still sees him as the greatest.

"He is the GOAT. He is unbelievable. And what he has achieved, I don't know if anyone can ever achieve on all the surfaces of all the tournaments," she added.

"He broke most of the records and he's just from another planet, I say. I still feel that he has a few more grand slams in him.

"[The Wimbledon final] was just an amazing final, very close. It could have gone both ways. I think at the end, Carlos showed the guts and went for the shots.

"I'm sure he was nervous, but he wasn't showing it to us. But the US Open is coming up soon and I think Novak will be another hard one to beat there."

Nadal, meanwhile, is likely to retire next year.

"Where do I start? Winning 14 Roland Garros, I don't think anyone will ever break that record," Majoli said of Nadal's impact on tennis.

"That's probably going to stay in the history of tennis and just what a humble and amazing person he is, and how much he contributes to the world of tennis. It will be his legacy."

Rafael Nadal's impact on tennis has been "tremendous" but Marion Bartoli believes he already has a natural successor in Carlos Alcaraz.

The 22-time major champion confirmed he plans to retire next year following a decorated career that has seen him claim nearly every major honour in tennis.

His exit would leave just one of the sport's 'Big Three' left, in Novak Djokovic, following Roger Federer's retirement last year following the Laver Cup.

While Bartoli feels Nadal's legacy speaks for itself, she also suggests the rise of Alcaraz, who took his second grand slam at Wimbledon earlier this month, might mitigate his departure from the world stage.

"[His impact is] tremendous, but in some ways for him, because Alcaraz is Spanish, it almost feels like the torch has been passed," the 2013 Wimbledon champion told Stats Perform.

"[It is] the new generation that is starting to win, starting to be the best in the world. It might feel less like he's leaving tennis.

"Look at Roger. In Switzerland, there is nobody coming after [him]. In Spain, there is already somebody winning. Rafa will probably accept that, but it's never easy to walk away from something you have done for many years.

"That you have been so successful, that is part of your DNA, part of you, something that everybody recognises you for [in] being that amazing champion at Roland Garros."

Bartoli believes Nadal's decision has been made with an eye on the future, and acknowledges that the physical cost of his profession has to be considered.

"It's not easy to say that you're not going to play at Roland Garros again," she added. "That's just what you have to recover from. I think Rafa has been laying out his future really well.

"He's going into business, he's a father now. He has so many things to look forward to, but he has to preserve his body enough, so he doesn't have pains that stop him from living normally.

"As an athlete, when you walk away from your career, you don't want to have damaged your body so much that you can't even enjoy normal things in normal life.

"Rafa is at that point where he has to think whether it's worth giving it a final go or whether it's not worth it because it will damage his body long term."

Novak Djokovic's status as the greatest of all time is unharmed despite his Wimbledon final defeat, says Marion Bartoli.

Djokovic's hopes of winning a fifth straight Wimbledon title and a joint-record eighth overall were ended by a superb performance from Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won in five sets to clinch a second grand slam despite only turning 20 in May.

Now 36, Djokovic has won 23 grand slams, more than any other male player, and though he missed the chance for a record-extending 24th at SW19 last weekend, Bartoli maintains his position as the greatest ever cannot be questioned. 

"If you have three or four more grand slams than anyone else, how can you even start the conversation?" she told Stats Perform. "The conversation is over.

"You can sort of go into more details with the surface but overall, especially when you look at the head-to-head and we know that Novak is leading the head-to-head against Roger [Federer] and against Rafa [Nadal].

"We know he's leading on the weeks at number one in the world. We know he has won all the grand slams three times and even more. You know, we know all those numbers. So then, what else do you need?"

For all of Djokovic's success, he has not always proved the most popular of players, in stark contrast to his 'Big Three' rivals Federer and Nadal.

Bartoli does not feel this plays into the conversation of who is the best ever and believes Djokovic can continue to challenge for grand slams in the coming years despite his advanced age. 

"If it's then how much you're liked by the crowd," Bartoli said. "That is something that is, you know, not a fact. That's purely an emotion, so you can't judge based on emotions.

"Even now, when you split the first three grand slams [of 2023] only with two players [Djokovic and Alcaraz], it's fair to say that the rest of the field is not quite at the same level as them, so Novak can sustain that level [at the top for longer]."

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