Djokovic and Nadal’s Last Dance at the 2024 Paris Olympics?

The relationship between tennis and the Olympics has always been a difficult one. The sport was on the list of sports featured in the first Modern Olympiad (Athens 1986) but was excluded between 1924 and 1988. During this time, the Grand Slam tournaments in Australia, France, Great Britain, and the US cemented themselves as the most prestigious in the tennis calendar.

However, the Paris 2024 Games feature very high on the list of priorities for most top players, starting with Serbian legend Novak Djokovic, whose incredible roll of honors still does not include an Olympic gold medal. Fans will soon be looking at tennis betting odds to figure out their pick for the winner of the Olympic tournament, and they’ll undoubtedly see Djokovic’s name at the top of the list. The world’s no. 1 tennis player, Djokovic is also the winner of the last three Grand Slam titles, including the one that took place at Roland Garros, the same venue that will host the Olympic tournament. 

Of course, no list of favorites in Paris is complete without the name of Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard trails Djokovic in the list of all-time Grand Slam winners by two titles (22 vs 24), but he has scooped up a record-breaking 14 titles on the clay courts of Roland Garros, making him by far the most successful tennis player in history on this surface. In 2021, a statue was unveiled next to Court Philippe Chatrier, the main arena at Roland Garros, to celebrate his achievements at the tournament.

While Djokovic is still very much an active player on tour despite a tentative start of the 2024 season, Nadal has been struggling to recover from an injury that sidelined him for most of the 2023 season, during which he played only four matches. He returned to the tour in January, at the Brisbane International tournament, in Australia. Here, he was forced to retire without competing in the following two tournaments, further delaying his preparation for his favorite part of the season: the clay court swing.

Djokovic and Nadal share the longest rivalry in men’s pro tennis history: they have faced each other 59 times in official matches, and countless more in exhibitions around the world. Djokovic narrowly leads 30-29, and three of their last four matches took place at Roland Garros, including the final of the 2020 tournament, which delivered Nadal’s 13th title in Paris during a very unusual match played under the roof during a cold and rainy October afternoon. The Roland Garros tournament usually takes place in spring, but in 2020, it was postponed until the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both players are approaching the twilight of their respective careers: Nadal was born in 1986, so he is about to turn 38, with Djokovic one year younger. Competing at the Olympics one more time is an objective of theirs for 2024: Nadal has said he just wants to play, while Djokovic is trying to win a gold medal for himself and Serbia after failing to do so in the past. 

In 2008 in Beijing Nadal and Djokovic faced each other in the semi-finals, with Nadal prevailing in three sets. He went on to win the gold, while Djokovic secured a bronze medal. In 2012, the Olympic tournament was contested on the grass at Wimbledon: Nadal could not participate due to an injury, and Djokovic lost the bronze medal final to Juan Martin del Potro from Argentina after losing the semi-final to Andy Murray.

At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, it was Nadal’s turn to lose the bronze medal final, this time against Kei Nishikori from Japan, while Djokovic suffered a crushing defeat in the first round once again against Del Potro. During the last Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, Nadal was once again out due to injury. Meanwhile, favorite Djokovic lost another bronze medal final, against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, after losing the semi-final to Alexander Zverev from Germany.

This will be the last chance for both of them to play at the Olympics: it would be the most befitting end to their careers if their last meeting could take place at the Olympics and Roland Garros, one of the most historic venues for tennis.

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