Novak Djokovic revealed Rafael Nadal’s pre-match routine before going onto the court often intimidated him and made him aware of the challenge he faced every time he took on the Spaniard.
Speaking to Andy Murray in an Instagram Live, the duo picked their perfect tennis players by handpicking the qualities of different players. Both Djokovic and Murray had no doubt about who had the strongest mindset in tennis.
“His (Nadal’s) intensity, especially when you see him jumping around before you walk onto the court, it already intimidates you,” Djokovic said.
“It creates the challenge in your mind that I’m going in with a gladiator in the arena, a mental giant, and also a physical giant,” he added about the impact of Nadal’s persona on his opponents even before the game started.
The World No 1 hailed Nadal’s ability to bounce back from injuries that he suffered at regular intervals in his career, taking him just past Roger Federer in the mental aspect, according to the Serbian.
“His champions’ mentality that he has been able to produce on all surfaces is incredible,” he said.
“The way he was bouncing back after numerous injuries he had. I think he was the most injured of any of us. I think he had something every second season for several months and managed to come back and build his game, the resilience he has on the court was astonishing,” he added.
While calling Federer the most complete tennis player ever, Djokovic highlighted an aspect of his game that hasn’t been given enough credit.
“One of his abilities that I feel is underrated or not talked about as much is his ability to serve and volley,” Djokovic said.
“Against us (Murray and Djokovic) who were great returners, I felt he was never intimidated so much by the return. Especially on the quicker surfaces, he would disrupt your rhythm,” he added.
“What he does so well and has been doing so well is to take away your time. He was so quick to the net. I think the quality of his first volley and his positioning at the net is probably underrated,” he continued.
Murray seconded Djokovic on his take on Federer’s ability to volley.
“I think a lot of the guys hit the volley very well, but because of his touch, he is able to hit volleys better than most. More importantly, he has done it so many times under a lot of pressure,” he said.
Djokovic and Murray's perfect tennis player
Murray haunted by 2016 Roland Garros final loss to Djokovic
Murray also admitted that his Roland Garros final defeat in 2016 to lifetime rival Novak Djokovic remains one of his most shattering losses.
Djokovic triumphed in Paris, 3–6, 6–1, 6–2, 6–4 to capture his first and only French Open title.
“If I could change one result, I obviously would have loved to win the Australian Open or the French Open, but as a challenge for me, because clay was such a tough surface for me throughout my career,” Murray told the world number one during the link-up.
“Just in the terms of the way I played on clay it was the hardest one for me to adapt to.
“That would have been my biggest achievement for me if I would have won the French.
“Australia has been pretty painful for me thanks to you over the years. If I could change one I would take the French Open off you.”
Djokovic has long had the upper hand on Murray.
He leads their head-to-head 25-11 and has 17 Grand Slam titles to the Briton’s three.
However, Murray does possess two Olympic gold medals from London in 2012 and Rio in 2016. He defeated Djokovic in the semi-finals in London on his way to the title.
“I felt like a played well overall, but you beat me in the London Olympics in the semis, 7-5, 7-5,” Djokovic said.
“I still felt like we both played very well, I felt the quality of the match was pretty good, you were just better in the decisive moments of the sets.
“Of course I was devastated when I lost because it was Olympic Games, but I was happy with the way I played.”
(With AFP inputs)