Novak Djokovic is adamant that Rafael Nadal played at a 'high level' against Alexander Zverev despite losing to the German in straight sets at the French Open. Nadal's future has become a topic of intense debate after he hinted this may not be his farewell season after all, and he could return to Roland Garros in 2025.

In a pre-tournament press conference, the 37-year-old admitted it would 'probably' be his final appearance at the clay-court Grand Slam. But Nadal's refusal to commit to retirement at the end of the season prompted French Open organisers to cancel a farewell ceremony they had planned before Monday's clash with Zverev.

Djokovic was in the crowd to watch his rival's 3-6 6-7 3-6 defeat, and the Serb isn't convinced that the chapter has been closed.

"I think he played very well compared to what we saw from his performances in Rome and Barcelona," Djokovic explained. "I think he played really on a much higher level. Even though he lost in straight sets, the second and third set were really close.

"He could have easily won one of those two sets, and maybe the match would have gone in a different direction. But he was a bit unlucky with the draw, because Zverev is in great form, winning Rome, and he was serving extremely well."

Nadal was vulnerable to drawing a tricky opponent at Roland Garros, having fallen outside the world's top 250 players and lost his seeded status. And in coming up against fourth seed Zverev - fresh from overall victory at the Italian Open - the test couldn't have been much harder.

"It's tough to play Sascha when he's feeling the ball so well," Djokovic continued. "But it was great to watch. I don't recall the last time I actually watched a set of any match live on that level, other than Davis Cup matches.

"It was great. I saw Iga [Swiatek] was there, [Carlos] Alcaraz was there, and we all wanted to get a glimpse of the atmosphere, of that possibly unique moment, you know, that could be his last. But it doesn't appear like that."

Like Nadal, Djokovic arrived in Paris amid a worrying run of form. The Belgrade-born competitor was well beaten by Tomas Machac at the Geneva Open last week and suffered a surprise straight-sets defeat against Alejandro Tabilo in Rome.

Djokovic took an important step towards regaining momentum on Tuesday, however, with a 6-4 7-6 6-4 victory over qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert to set up a second-round meeting with Roberto Carballes Baena.

2024-05-29T07:52:05Z dg43tfdfdgfd