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Novak Djokovic says tennis’ ‘Big Four’ rivalries made him tougher

Swiatek pointed to the example of Nadal, who has been the dominant men’s player on clay over the last two decades with 14 Roland Garros titles, while also winning multiple crowns at the other three Majors.

“As you can see, Rafa, he’s called a clay-court specialist, but he won so many tournaments on hard-courts and grass as well. The goal is to be good everywhere,” Swiatek said.

“There are always going to be players who feel more comfortable on clay or on hard courts, so it’s just a matter of the technique and being used to it.” REUTERS

ROME – Novak Djokovic said his rivalries with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray had helped him become stronger in the face of adversity, after the world No. 1 battled his way into the last 16 of the Italian Open.

The 35-year-old Serb was a set and a break up in Sunday’s match with Grigor Dimitrov but was then dragged into a decider, where he raised his level again to close out a 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 win after more than two hours.

“Luckily for me, in my career, I managed to win more matches than I lost when I was facing difficult circumstances,” Djokovic said.

“For a few years, whenever I needed to make that final step or win a Grand Slam, I didn’t manage to do that, so I learned a lot.

“I got stronger because of the rivalries, particularly with Federer, Nadal and Murray,” he added.

Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray were dubbed the “Big Four” as they won a combined 67 Grand Slam titles in an unprecedented period of dominance and were involved in some of the most memorable matches over the last two decades.

“Staying the course, staying patient and believing in the process and the journey,” Djokovic said. “Understanding what works for you best, what’s your winning formula mentally and also physically and emotionally, and then sticking to it.”

Djokovic, who is gunning for a men’s record 23rd Major title at the French Open starting later this month, will face Briton Cameron Norrie on Tuesday for a place in the Rome quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, women’s world No. 1 Iga Swiatek has also reflected on one of the “Big Four”.

While she feels most comfortable on clay, the Pole hopes to emulate her idol Nadal and win titles on all surfaces to become one of the game’s greats.

The 21-year-old won the French Open in 2020 and 2022 and has also proven herself on hard surfaces, winning the US Open last year. Grass courts are a different story, however, the Pole failing to go beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon.

“I think if you want to be the best in tennis, you have to play well on all these surfaces,” Swiatek said following her 6-2, 6-0 win over Lesia Tsurenko at the Italian Open on Sunday.

“I’m lucky enough to have the grass-court season only for three weeks, but I’m still getting it. I know it’s an important part of the tour and I should be better at it.”