Cape Town - Former French tennis star Henri Leconte believes that once legends Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer retire from the sport it will battle to recover from their absence.
The 53-year-old Leconte, who reached the men's singles final at the French Open in 1988, won the French Open men's doubles title in 1984 and helped France win the Davis Cup in 1991, told Tennis.com that the modern rivalry between Swiss maestro Federer and 'the king of clay' Nadal can never be matched.
Over the last year or so the two stars have been waylaid with niggling injuries but are planning a return to action in time for the opening grand slam of the year, the Australian Open, starting on January 16.
"It's never easy to come back at a high level after not having played for such a long time like it happened with Federer," Leconte said.
"Hopefully Federer and Nadal can come back because we need them. You have to realise one thing, when these guys retire, what will happen to tennis?"
Between them for more than a decade, Federer and Nadal have won a combined 31 grand slam singles titles and have faced each other 34 times so far. The Spaniard holds a 23-11 advantage.
The former world number five Leconte feels that despite Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray currently dominating at the top of the sport including the emergence of young talented players like - Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic, the sport won't be the same without Federer and Nadal once they decide to retire.
"Tennis is growing in terms of numbers, earnings and media coverage," Leconte continued.
"This has happened for two main reasons, new technologies involving media coverage and tennis facilities and the advent of Federer and Nadal, who changed modern tennis, marking an epoch and a rivalry that can never be compared."