DOHA, Qatar – Novak Djokovic said that sport needed "legend" Rafael Nadal to make another comeback after it was announced Wednesday, January 2, that the injury-plagued Spaniard had withdrawn from his season-opening tournament in Brisbane.
Nadal said that he would not play in Brisbane because of a left thigh strain, prompting yet more fears over the 32-year-old's long term future in tennis. (READ: Thigh strain forces Nadal out of Brisbane tournament)
Nadal, who claimed his 17th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros last year, has not played a competitive match since September.
He also lost the world No. 1 ranking to Djokovic, whose battles with the Spaniard are one of modern sport's greatest rivalries.
"He has done the comebacks for so many times in his career that you always believe that he can do it again," said Djokovic after reaching the Qatar Open quarterfinals on Wednesday.
"He has a very physical style of tennis which obviously is putting a lot of load and pressure on his joints, on his knees.
"Sport needs Rafa, no question about it. He is one of the greatest legends of all time and we want to see him play."
Djokovic survives scare
In the Qatar Open, Djokovic admitted he had to "fight" to come back from a set down to beat world No. 36 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary and advance to the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Djokovic survived a huge scare to eventually triumph 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 and admitted his opponent was "very close to the win."
"For the first two sets he was the better player," said two-time Qatar Open champion Djokovic.
"He played really well, smart, changing up the rhythm and the pace of the ball and moving me around.
"I was kind of in a corner and I had to find my way and fight my way through."
The match lasted exactly two hours, which was twice as long as the Serb spent on court in his first round stroll against Damir Dzumhur, where he lost just 3 games. (READ: Djokovic wins first match of 2019 in just 55 minutes)
A backhand winner eventually secured victory for Djokovic but the result was in doubt for a long time, with the Serb only breaking Fucsovics in the 10th game of the 2nd set to ensure the match went into a final set shootout.
Djokovic added: "I knew his qualities and especially in the slower conditions, so I did expect that it was going to be a match with a lot of rallies and very physical and that has proven to be the case."
Djokovic will play 5th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in the quarterfinals.
The Georgian beat Russia's Andrey Rublev, the 2018 runner-up, 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday.
If he wins his last 8 match, Djokovic is on course to meet Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals after the Swiss also won on Wednesday, beating Chile's Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 7-6 (7/3).
Wawrinka plays Spain's Roberto Batista Agut in the quarters.
Also through is France's Pierre-Hugues Herbert who notched a second thrilling victory in as many nights by beating Germany's Max Marterer 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (8/6).
Herbert, who beat second seed and world No. 8 Dominic Thiem 24 hours earlier, will now play Tomas Berdych in the last 8, who won a three-set match against Fernando Verdasco, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, in the last match of the night.
Djokovic, who had long played in the tournament to gear up for the Australian Open, hopes to see Nadal in the first Grand Slam of the year.
The two superstars have met in the finals of all 4 of the Grand Slams and 52 times in total.
Among their most memorable matches was the 2012 Australian Open final, lasting almost 6 hours and won by the Serb.
A 2013 French Open semifinal was dubbed the greatest ever match on clay and last year battled again for more than 5 hours in a Wimbledon semifinal.
They first met in on court in Paris in 2006 when, ironically, Nadal was declared the winner after Djokovic had to retire during the match with injury.
Nadal, the current world No. 2, has not played a main tour event since a knee problem forced him to retire during his US Open semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro in September last year.
The 32-year-old had surgery on his ankle in November and only resumed training 3 weeks ago.
Nadal said doctors were confident he would be fit to play at the Australian Open which starts on January 14.
"They say that it's a very small thing, but it can become a big thing, because a strain in the muscle is dangerous," he said. – Rappler.com