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In an exclusive interview with Eurosport, Boris Becker has stressed his belief that Rafael Nadal may have to “suffer” in the early stages of his comeback following a long-term hip injury.

Becker believes that the 22-time Grand Slam winner is being realistic with his goals for the tournament in Melbourne, and does not expect the Spaniard to find his groove until the start of the clay-court season.

“I don’t think his expectations for Melbourne are sky-high right now: if he wins a few matches there, good for him,” Becker told Eurosport Germany’s ‘Das Gelbe vom Ball’ podcast.

“He will then concentrate on the clay-court tournaments early on. He’ll definitely play Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and maybe even Rome in order to be 100 per cent fit again in Paris.

“His goal has to be Roland Garros, and then the Olympics, both of which will be played in Paris on clay.

“But he has to play first: he will only gain match fitness and match practice by playing in matches.

“So, he has to suffer a little so that he gets better in March, April, until he can play his best game in May.”

‘One of the best seasons I’ve had in my life’ – Djokovic rejoices at ‘phenomenal’ ATP Finals win

‘Novak is the dominator of the tennis scene’ – Djokovic backed to win more slams

The German then turned his attention to Novak Djokovic, who – in Nadal’s absence – has surpassed the Spaniard’s all-time men’s Grand Slam singles record, winning his 24th and latest major at this year’s US Open.

“You’re not really meant to play tennis like that at the age of 36,” Becker said.

“When does the guy get tired, or when does he run out of motivation?

“Novak is the dominator of the tennis scene – he has won three out of four Grand Slams [in 2023], then came second in that fabulous Wimbledon final against [Carlos] Alcaraz.

“For me, that was the best match of the year. With all due respect to all the other winners, Djokovic against Alcaraz was out of this world.”

With this in mind, Becker hopes that the younger generation headed by Alcaraz and including the likes of Jannik Sinner and Holger Rune, can push the Serbian even harder next year.

“He will be 37 years old next May, whereas Alcaraz and co. will be better and more experienced,” Becker said.

“I think the best thing that can happen for the tennis scene as a whole is for Djokovic to remain strong and for the younger generation to come closer.

“In other words, I still expect Djokovic to win a Grand Slam or two. But I also believe that Alcaraz and co. will more often throw a spanner in the works.

“I hope that this rivalry between the most successful player of all time and the rest of the tennis world continues for a long time, because we tennis fans and amateur players benefit from it.”

Stream top tennis action, including the 2024 Australian Open, live on discovery+, the Eurosport app and at Eurosport.com.

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