Rafael Nadal has not played since he suffered a hip injury in January 2024. He had surgery this past summer and has been working his way back. He is set to return at the Brisbane International next week. But even Rafael Nadal's uncle, Toni, isn't quite sure how well Nadal will do next year or how healthy he can stay.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, who is only a year younger than Nadal but seems to remain healthier than the Spaniard, kept winning Grand Slams in 2023 as he won the Australian Open, French Open, and the US Open. He only failed to win a calendar Grand Slam by one set as he lost the Wimbledon final in five sets to Carlos Alcaraz.
One might assume that Djokovic will be far more successful next year than Nadal due to his overall health and the momentum he will carry over from 2023. Djokovic has 24 Grand Slams, of course, and also won his seventh ATP Finals. Nadal has never won one of those events. But according to former Roger Federer coach Ivan Ljubicic, we should push the brakes on assuming Djokovic will have a better 2024 than Nadal.
How good will Rafael Nadal be compared to Novak Djokovic and others next year?
Speaking on a recent episode of the ATP Tennis Radio Podcast, Ljubicic said, "I think the most successful (player will be) Novak (in 2023), at least on the male side. He keeps winning, he is not stopping and I am really curious and I will love to see Rafa back in 2024 to give him some heat."
"Heat" is the keyword there. Sure, Novak Djokovic is likely to feel a bit more stress if he plays Rafael Nadal in 2024 simply because the two players have such a storied history of playing high-stress and high-level matches at major tournaments. But Djokovic feeling stress is different from saying Nadal will beat Djokovic next year. We simply do not know if Nadal is capable of beating most of the top players, especially at the beginning of the year.
A larger question might be whether Nadal is closer in form to Djokovic or whether players such as Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner are better than Nadal. Nadal coming back and playing is great, but if he isn't challenging for major titles, how long does he stick around? He has already heavily hinted that 2024 will be his final year so depending on how the early part of the year goes, Nadal might simply decide to retire after the Olympics in early August.