Novak Djokovic: Obsession with the French Open

The Serb is desperate to triumph at Roland Garros this year as it is the only Grand Slam the World No 1 has yet to win

Dubai

It is rare to hear a player targeting anything but his next match, but Novak Djokovic is clear about his major goal for 2013. A year after narrowly failing to become only the third man in history to hold all four Grand Slam titles when he lost the French Open final to Rafael Nadal, the 25-year-old Serb has Paris in his sights again. "I'm not hiding that priority No 1 is probably Roland Garros because it's the only Grand Slam I haven't won in my career," Djokovic said here as he prepared for his first tournament since winning last month's Australian Open.

Djokovic, who began his attempt to win the Dubai Duty Free Champion-ships for the fourth time in five years with a 6-1, 6-4 victory last night over Viktor Troicki, will not admit as much, but this year might just represent his best chance of joining the elite group of seven men who have won all four Grand Slam titles.

Nadal, having been out of the game for seven months with a knee injury, was due to start his third comeback tournament last night in Acapulco, having won the title at a "250" event – the lowest level on the main tour – in Sao Paulo earlier this month. However, it remains to be seen whether the king of clay can maintain his fitness and recapture his best form in time for the French Open, which he has won seven times in the last eight years.

Djokovic has been following Nadal's comeback with interest. "I've seen highlights of his matches, and I watched him playing in Brazil for one set," the world No 1 said. "He's still playing really, really well on clay. I didn't expect any different.

"I'm not in his shoes and I don't know how he feels physically, but he won a tournament, even though it's a 250 event and he hasn't played those tournaments in years. I am sure it is going to give him confidence for the rest of the season. He wanted to play matches, and it doesn't matter at what level. It's great for tennis that he is back."

The last comment did not appear to be made through gritted teeth and Djokovic's current confidence is such that he would not face Nadal with an inferiority complex. The Spaniard won 14 of their first 18 meetings and their first five in Grand Slam tournaments, but Djokovic beat him in all six of their matches during his annus mirabilis of 2011 and might have won their French Open final last year had rain not interrupted the match just after he had launched his comeback by winning eight games in a row.

"Even last year and two years ago when he was playing really well on clay I felt that just a few points were deciding the winner of our matches on clay," Djokovic said. "I think I have got better on clay. Rafa is definitely the ultimate challenge and a tough player to beat on this surface, but we don't know what will happen before Roland Garros. There are many tournaments on clay courts and on hard courts. We'll see. To be able to win a Grand Slam title you have to be 100 per cent – emotionally, mentally and physically."

Serena Williams said here last week that if she could take any of Djokovic's qualities it would be his fitness. The Serb, whose powers of endurance have been key to his success, agreed that being in peak condition in Paris would be crucial. "There are two [Masters Series tournaments] back-to-back, in Madrid and Rome, which are very demanding and tough, and then you go to Roland Garros and things change because you are approaching a Grand Slam and you want to show your best tennis."

Djokovic, who is now more than 3,000 ranking points clear of Roger Federer, the world No 2, said he had felt "incredible joy and fulfilment" at winning the Australian Open last month for the third year in a row. "I cannot ask for a better start to the year," he said.

With Djokovic and Andy Murray contesting the last two Grand Slam finals, the talk has been of the two 25-year-olds having taken over as the two greatest rivals at the top of the game, but Djokovic insisted: "I can't pick Andy over Roger and Rafa because I think all three of them are my greatest rivals. I can't pick one of them. They are all dominant in our sport. And of all the active players they [Federer and Nadal] still have the biggest rivalry.

"But Andy and I have played a lot of great matches in the last 25 months and hopefully we can maintain this high level of excitement and tough matches we are playing and develop this rivalry in the years to come."

Asked if he was surprised that Murray has chosen to train in Florida rather than compete here, Djokovic said: "He played a lot of matches last year. It was physically, mentally and emotionally a hard year for him. It was the year when he won his first Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal, so maybe he made that decision months ago to have an extra four or five weeks with no official matches before this tough period of tournaments, starting with Indian Wells and Miami [next month] and then the whole clay-court and grass-court seasons.

"It's going to take a lot of effort not just for him but for all the players to maintain the highest possible level and be contenders to win all the tournaments. I'm sure he's doing what's best for him. Everybody has a different schedule."

Djokovic himself took a break after helping Serbia win their Davis Cup tie against Belgium the weekend after the Australian Open. He returned to his homeland to do some charity work in connection with his foundation and found time last week to go to Milan to watch the team he supports beat Barcelona 2-0 in the Champions League.

The Serb, who is clearly in good heart, said he feels in a better frame of mind than he had at this stage 12 months ago. "Mentally I do feel more relief than when I started 2012," he said. "Following up after 2011 was an extreme challenge, mentally mostly. I still played really well but I found myself for the first time in the position of being No 1 in the world and defending a Grand slam title – three in a whole year, so that was very challenging.

"I consider finishing No 1 in 2012 maybe an even bigger success than in 2011. Right now I feel great and I learned my lesson. I understand the experience I went through and I am ready for new challenges."

Djokovic duels: Rivals record

Against Roger Federer

Career: Federer leads 16-13

Since start of 2011: Djokovic leads 7-3

In Grand Slams: Federer leads 6-5

Against Rafael Nadal

Career: Nadal leads 19-14

Since start of 2011: Djokovic leads 7-3

In Grand Slams: Nadal leads 6-3

Against Andy Murray

Career: Djokovic leads 11-7

Since start of 2011: Djokovic leads 7-4

In Grand Slams: Djokovic leads 3-1

His French Open record

2005 3R (lost to Coria)

2006 SF (lost to Nadal)

2007 SF (lost to Nadal)

2008 SF (lost to Nadal)

2009 3R (lost to Kohlschreiber)

2010 QF (lost to Melzer)

2011 SF (Federer)

2012 Final (Nadal)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?