Novak Djokovic could meet world number one Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals
Novak Djokovic could meet world number one Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals AFP News

The 2023 French Open starts on Sunday, May 28. However, there will be a different atmosphere at Roland Garros as the place resonates with the absence of 14-time champion Rafael Nadal. One of the favourites to win the title in the absence of the Spaniard is Novak Djokovic, who admitted that he became emotional when he found out about his long-time rival's decision.

Nadal did not only announce that he injuries are preventing him from competing in Roland Garros this year, he also declared that he expects to hang up his racket for good in 2024. After the retirement of Roger Federer last year, Nadal's impending departure from the sport will leave Djokovic as the only man left standing in the "Big Three" era of men's tennis.

Federer raced ahead of the two to claim 20 Grand Slam titles in his illustrious career, many of which were won against both Nadal and Djokovic in some epic finals. However, as the Swiss maestro aged and started to deal with injuries of his own, the other two forged their own rivalry and eventually broke Federer's record.

After overtaking Federer, they now jointly hold the record for most Grand Slam titles at 22, but with Nadal sidelined in his best tournament by far, the Serb now has a chance to claim the solo spot at the top with a possible 23rd major win.

However, after Nadal's decision to retire in 2024, Djokovic said that he has also started to think about his own future in the sport. "It made me wonder about my career and how long I might play. When he announced he is going to have his last season, I felt part of me is leaving with him too," said Djokovic, as quoted by BBC.

Nadal will be missing the French Open for the first time in 19 seasons, going all the way to lift the trophy in 14 of those glorious years. Even when he had struggled with injuries in previous years, he always managed to come back to pull miracles in Paris. However, despite his best efforts with his medical team, he missed the clay season this year and plans to take more time off to rest and prepare for a farewell season in 2024.

Djokovic admitted that Nadal has been "one of the most impactful people " in his own career, with the two of them having faced each other a record 59 times so far. He also called Nadal a "great motivational factor" for pushing him to keep playing and competing at the highest level.

Even though the Spaniard has been struggling with injuries for many years, Djokovic said that the announcement of his farewell season still came as "a shock to everybody."

Despite both having 22 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic has only won the French Open twice as opposed to Nadal's 14 trophies. When the Serb won in 2016, he did not have to go through the Spaniard as the latter had to withdraw before the third round. Djokovic did manage to beat Nadal in the semi-finals in 2021 and in the quarter-finals in 2015 before he lost in the final against Stan Wawrinka.

Now, with Nadal absent from the draw, Djokovic admits that it is a better situation for him in terms of the competition even though he recognises the value of the Spaniard's presence at the tournament. "I don't like seeing him in the draw of Roland Garros, to be honest. I have managed to beat him twice, but I had to leave my heart and my guts out on the court to achieve that," he shared.

He added that it is particularly difficult to face Nadal at the French Open, meaning his chances are better without the "King of Clay."

However, despite the absence of Nadal, Djokovic still has his work cut out for him in the next two weeks. He is seeded behind world number 1 and Nadal's heir apparent Carlos Alcaraz and Russian ace Daniil Medvedev this year.