Inside The Nadal-Djokovic Practice In Paris That Was 'Years' In The Making
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have played each other 54 times in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, including 26 times with a title on the line. But ahead of the Rolex Paris Masters, the duo practised together in Bercy.
To Nadal, the question was not ‘Why?’, but ‘Why not?’ Carlos Moya, former World No. 1 and one of Nadal's coaches, organised the session. The rivals went out, and they trained without a second thought about who was standing across the net.
“I am delighted to train with Novak, without any issues,” Nadal told ATPTour.com on Saturday during a session with the media. “This is a sport. To look at the practice as some abnormality wouldn't be right and would be taking our rivalry out of context. I don't look at sports that way.”
Even though Nadal and Djokovic have contested some of the sport’s most memorable matches against one another, that doesn’t mean they can’t coexist outside of those battles.
"I think that my main rivals have not seen it that way [as abnormal to practise with one another] and that is why in tennis we're existing in a place where everything feels natural, not awkward,” Nadal said. “We coexist quite normally.”
Djokovic told the news media on Monday that him and Nadal had not practised with one another in ‘years’, but it was only a positive experience, even knowing that between this week’s ATP Masters 1000 event and the Nitto ATP Finals, they will be fighting for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking.
“I enjoyed it, to be honest. It was great. It was a lot of fun. It was very intense and competitive, as you can imagine, obviously, but in a very respectful way,” Djokovic said. “We are rivals but that doesn't prevent us from being respectful and treating each other in the right way and our teams as well. I have always had that kind of relationship with Rafa. And regardless of which course our careers went to and how tense maybe sometimes [our rivalry is], we always had respect for each other.”
How was the training itself? If nothing else, Djokovic admitted it was different. They are used to playing with thousands of fans cheering loudly around them, with plenty at stake deep in a tournament. While it was important, this was only training, something they have not done together often.
“It was actually very unusual,” Djokovic said. “It was strange because when I see him across the net, that means I'm playing him probably [in the] semi-finals or finals of a big event, but this time it was a practice session. But nevertheless, the intensity was like a match.”
The year-end No. 1 spot is still up for grabs going into the final stretch of 2019. Novak Djokovic is currently the top-ranked player, but World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who holds a 1,280-point lead over the Serbian in the ATP Race To London, will reclaim the No. 1 spot on 4 November regardless of this week’s results in Paris.
The 33-year-old Spaniard can clinch year-end World No. 1 for the fifth time by capturing his first title at this event. Three-time champion Djokovic is seeking a record-tying sixth year-end No. 1 finish, which would bring him even with Pete Sampras.