Novak Djokovic claimed his first title of 2022 at the Italian Open and has credited his rivalry with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for his personal success. The "Big Three" have dominated the game for the last two decades with majority of the major titles shared between the trio until recently.

While the world number one has shared a long rivalry with Federer, he has picked the Spaniard as his biggest rival. Djokovic and Nadal have faced each other a mammoth 58 times on the ATP Tour and Grand Slam events, with the Serb holding a slender advantage with 30 wins.

"We are always competing. Federer and Nadal have always been there, but for me Nadal is the biggest opponent of my career. I have grown as a player because he has pushed me to it," Djokovic said after his win in Rome, as quoted by Marca.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are on collision course in the French Open Thomas SAMSON/AFP

The "Big Three" have a combined 61 Grand Slam titles with Nadal in the lead with a record 21 major titles. It started with Federer claiming the 2003 Wimbledon title, Nadal joined the Swiss ace in 2005 with his first French Open title, and the duo were then joined by Djokovic in 2008 when he won the Australian Open.

While Djokovic arrived late, he moved past Federer and Nadal with more ATP Masters 1000 titles than his rivals. The Serb has also spent the most number of weeks - 370 - as the world number one, and is just seven weeks shy of the all time record set by Steffi Graf.

The 34-year-old has had a difficult 2022 after being deported from Australian after declining to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He was also forced to miss the Indian Wells and Miami Masters owing to the vaccine mandate in the United States.

The title at the Italian Open was Djokovic's first of the season, and he admitted that it was a relief to get back to winning ways. It will also be a huge boost for the ATP Tour's top ranked singles player going into the French Open, where he is the defending champion.

"Winning is a relief, honestly, after what has happened since the beginning of the year. It's important to win a great title before a Grand Slam and regain the confidence to have a chance of winning in Paris," the two-time French Open champion said.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy after winning his sixth Italian Open Tiziana FABI/AFP