Over the course of Novak Djokovic's career, Rafael Nadal has been the Serb's biggest rival. They have played 33 matches against each other, including five grand slam finals. Rafa has beat Nole 19 times, and over the last seven years, NoleFam has learned that anytime Rafa loses, it is good for Djokovic. However, over the next few months, Djokovic fans have several good reason to root for the King of Clay.
1. Nadal is good for the sport- Let's just admit it. The fans love to watch Rafa. His rivalries with Djokovic and Federer are two of the best rivalries in tennis history. Upsets are fun, but Nadal and Federer or Nadal and Djokovic finals are the most exciting matches of the season. These are the matches that people pay to watch. These are the matches that draw in new fans. The sport is simply more exciting with Rafa in the mix.
2. Djokovic needs to face Nadal before Roland Garros- Nadal may have skipped out on Miami, but Djokovic and Nadal could potentially meet in Monte Carlo, Madrid, and Rome. In each of the last two years, they have met in two of these tournaments. In 2011, Djokovic won in Madrid and Rome. In 2012, Nadal won in Monte Carlo and Rome. Nadal followed that up with a win in Roland Garros, which was the last time these two played each other. NoleFam should want Rafa to do well enough at these 1000 events to get to the later rounds where he will play Djokovic. Since it has been nearly a year since they last played, both players have changed a lot. Meeting in one of these 1000 events will give Djokovic a chance to see Nadal from the other side of the net and snap a three-match losing streak to Nadal before a potential matchup in Paris.
3. Djokovic doesn't want to play Nadal in the Roland Garros quarterfinals- That's right. If Nadal doesn't perform well at these next three tournaments, he will likely be the No. 5 seed at Roland Garros, which rarely changes seeds anymore. That means that there is a 25% chance that he will face Djokovic in the quarterfinals and a 50% chance that they will meet before the final. Now, I believe that Djokovic is more than capable of beating Nadal on clay. However, nobody on tour wants to see their name anywhere near Nadal's name when the French Open draw is released. The later Djokovic faces Nadal in Paris, the better. If Nadal stays ranked No. 4 in the world, then there is no chance that the pair will meet any sooner than the semifinals.
Those are the reasons that Novak fans should cheer for Nadal to have success early in the clay court season. However, there are still plenty of upsides for Djokovic if Nadal fails to defend his 4680 points from now until June. These are the reason for Novak's fans not to root for Nadal.
1. If Nadal does poorly, Djokovic won't face him- It's that simple. If Nadal is not where he used to be, then getting to the stages in tournaments where he would face Djokovic would be extremely difficult.If Nole never faces Rafa, then that's one less person that Djokovic has to worry about.
2. NoleFam should be more worried about Djokovic- Djokovic is the greatest player in the world right now, and nobody will argue the fact that when Novak is playing his best, nobody can beat him. It doesn't matter for Djokovic how Nadal is doing, because Djokovic is capable of beating anyone. At the same time, we have seen Djokovic lose some bad matches when he isn't at his best. He lost to Querrey in Paris and nearly lost to Seppi and Wawrinka in slams in the last 12 months. Djokovic has those days where he isn't like himself and there are plenty of challengers ready to pounce on the world No. 1 on those days. It doesn't matter what Rafa is doing, because what is going on on Novak's side of the net is most important.
3. Nadal is a threat to Djokovic's ranking- Although he is at No. 4 right now, after Roland Garros, Nadal has 90 points to defend until February 2014. Nadal rack up a lot of points during that time. If Rafa does well in April and May, then he is putting himself in good position to steal the No. 1 ranking from Djokovic at the 2014 Australian Open. The stage is going to be set for an epic grand slam down under in 2014 already. Melbourne is almost guaranteed to be the battle ground for the No. 1 ranking. If Nadal struggles in the clay season, Djokovic will have the upper hand down under.
Overall, I think it is best for Djokovic if Nadal struggles in Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, and even Barcelona. I want Nadal to be healthy, of course, but it is still best for Djokovic if Nadal does not continue to dominate on the red clay the way he did in the past. If what we have seen of Nadal in Acapulco or Indian Wells is any indicator, it looks like Rafa is as good as new.