AFP/Monte Carlo, Principality of Monaco
Novak Djokovic said yesterday he is working to ensure that last month’s sub-par hardcourt performances do not affect his seasonal bow on clay in Monte Carlo. The world number one kicks off at his home event starting in the second round against either Philipp Kohlschreiber or a qualifier.
Djokovic, winner of the last three Grand Slam titles and dreaming of completing his personal sweep with another trophy at Roland Garros, was stopped in the third round at Indian Wells last month.
He was then unable to hold onto a 6-1 lead in the opening set of his fourth-rounder in Miami, going out in three to Robert Bautista Agut.
“I can’t wait to step on court, I’ve been training hard,” he said on a rainy opening day of the Masters 1000.
“Some top players have been here for a week practising. I had a great last six months of the season, the 31-year-old Serb said.
“And I had an amazing start this year. Indian Wells and Miami were so-so - I’ll try to pick that up and see how it goes on clay.”
Djokovic and 11-time winner Rafael Nadal, along with Roland Garros runner-up Dominic Thiem, stand as favourites on paper for the first major title of the French Open preliminary events.
Roger Federer, who has skipped the clay season completely for the last two years and will return to Roland Garros for the first time since a 2015 quarter-final loss to fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka, is not playing.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion will appear in his only scheduled pre-Paris clay event in Madrid starting May 5.
“All of our games will be tested big-time - but that’s why we’re here,” Djokovic said of the slow Monte Carlo clay, which might be made even heavier by wet weather predicted for later in the week. The top seed said that while he would prefer to head to Paris with a title in his pocket, it’s not a desperate situation.
“But I’ve had some (successful) Roland Garros tournaments in the past where I didn’t win any of the big (clay) ones (Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome) before.
“It (lacking a major clay title) would not affect my state of mind but it would serve my confidence better if I’d won one of them coming into Paris.”
Djokovic believes that the state of Nadal’s dodgy left knee which forced him to quit prior to a semi-final with Federer at Indian Wells could determine the pecking order in the principality.
“But other than one guy, the draw is always open. Rafa is always the clear favourite on any any court in the world.
“But it depends on how he’s feeling physically. He’s the number one guy on this surface without a doubt.”
Djokovic also believes in the power of Federer as the 37-year-old steps back onto the clay. “Roger playing (clay) again this season is great for tennis,” he said. “He’s been playing great tennis lately, winning two out of his last three events (Dubai and Miami with an Indian Wells final against Thiem). It’s as good as it gets.
“I don’t see any particular issues for him on this (slow) surface. He’s won all the big ones.
“He is who he is, I always expect the highest level from him - it’s always there.
“He can be a favourite to win any tournament. He’s got a better title chance at tournaments other than Roland Garros, but he has won it in the past (2009).”
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