Novak Djokovic has lifted the lid on his desire to properly befriend Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal when all is said and done for the Big Three in tennis.
The Serbian has always been the odd man out in the trio, not only arriving later and upstaging the great Federer-Nadal rivalry but also being a more prickly and polarising personality.
Even without their level of fan support he is now top of the pile and will likely be for years to come after moving two grand slam titles ahead of the ailing Nadal and four clear of the retired Federer.
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Djokovic credits both for elevating his game after initially being intimidated — and regularly beaten late in grand slams — by the pair early in his career.
And so with his success over Federer and Nadal on the court comes his regrets involving the pair off it.
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Djokovic recently sat down for a lengthy interview with Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim, who compared the Big Three’s relationship to that of 1970s and 1980s women’s tennis stars Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
“Great rivalry, but sometimes they weren’t even speaking to each other. And now, they’re great friends,” Wertheim began.
“With a little bit of detachment, 10 years, 20 years, do you see you and Rafa and Roger all having dinner?”
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at an event in 2013. Credit: Getty
Djokovic was frank in his response.
“I would like to. I would really like to. I mean, obviously, we didn’t get along so well throughout our careers, off the court,” the Serbian said.
“And we are not friends because, you know, we’re rivals, and it’s difficult as competitors to be very close and kind of share and give insights to your life or to how you feel because it could be used against you.
“But we have shared the stage for so many years. And I think the greatest respect is always there, at least from my side, towards them.
“There’s always a huge amount of respect off the court because they have really defined me as the player that I am today.
“And all my success is also greatly owed to them and to the rivalries that we had. So yeah, I hope that one day when the curtains are slightly more closed, that we are able to sit down and reflect. It would be amazing.”
Federer and Nadal have been close themselves for many years and their friendship was most famously on show at the Laver Cup in 2022.
A tearful Federer, who was retiring from tennis after the event, was comforted by Nadal during a post-match ceremony.
Illustrating the hope that time could bring Djokovic closer to Federer and Nadal, Navratilova this week visited Evert in the wake of the latter’s news that her cancer had returned.
Evert was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2022 and initially completed her chemotherapy five months later.
Navratilova was diagnosed with throat and breast cancer in December 2022 and received the all clear in June this year.
Evert and Navratilova met just days after the former announced her cancer had returned. Credit: X
Meanwhile, Djokovic accepts he might never win the ‘GOAT’ debate in the eyes of some fans.
He says he is not just up against Federer and Nadal but the likes of Pete Sampras, Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg.
“There’s obviously different definitions and opinions and comparing the eras,” Djokovic said.
“Whether you take only numbers or stats, it’s very difficult to compare obviously an era where you play with a wooden racquet and nowadays.
“And where they couldn’t travel by plane before so much, and we can travel anywhere today and play more tournaments. So it’s all very relative.
“I know fans love it (the GOAT debate). And I think it’s great that there is a big discussion on that because, ultimately, all of us in tennis want more attention.
“We want more people, more younger generations to come in and get interested in watching tennis, debating about who is the greatest, who has the most titles, or comparing eras and stuff like this.”