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Djokovic has Nadal and French Open title in his sights

UK & international sports | Published:

The Serbian can hold all four grand slam titles for the second time in three years.

Italy Tennis Italian Open

Novak Djokovic has Rafael Nadal in his sights as he targets a second non-calendar Grand Slam at the French Open.

After finally holding the Coupe des Mousquetaires in 2016 to give him a fourth successive slam title, Djokovic endured two years of mental and physical struggles before hitting top form again at Wimbledon last summer.

Since then, Djokovic has been unstoppable on tennis’ biggest stages, sweeping to the US Open and Australian Open titles.

Italy Tennis Italian Open
Novak Djokovic bids to hold all four slams for a second time in Paris (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Should he win for a second time on the clay of Roland Garros in two weeks’ time, Djokovic would achieve what only Rod Laver has managed before in men’s tennis by holding all four slam titles more than once.

Having produced arguably the best tennis of his career in Melbourne in January, Djokovic wobbled a little amid turbulent political times for the ATP, whose player council he leads, but he has surged back to form over the last few weeks.

Djokovic won his second title of the year in Madrid and then reached the final last weekend in Rome before losing to a resurgent Nadal.

The Spaniard arrived in the Italian capital without silverware for the first time since 2004 but by the end of the week looked much more like the player who has won 11 French Open titles as he recorded a 6-0 4-6 6-1 victory over Djokovic.

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“He’s the main favourite to win the title,” said the world number one. “I think it wouldn’t be fair to pick anybody else because he has won this tournament so many times. He has lost, what, two times in his career on Parisian clay?

“So lots of respect for him, obviously, as always. We had a good match in Rome. He was a better player, was just too strong. I felt like I had a fantastic couple of weeks in Madrid and Rome, and I probably ran out of gas a little bit in the finals with a couple of long matches and late-night finishes.

“Overall, very positive weeks, and it’s a great lead-up to what’s coming up here. I wanted to peak in this tournament.

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“I’m sure I’m not the only one but for me, there is an extra motivation and incentive to win Roland Garros because of the opportunity to hold all four slams, something I did three years ago in my career, and that gives me obviously enough reason to believe I can do it again.”

When Djokovic lost in bad-tempered fashion to Marco Cecchinato in the quarter-finals here 12 months ago, it would have taken an extreme optimist to predict the subsequent dominance he has reasserted on the tour.

France Tennis French Open Draw
Rafael Nadal wants to maintain his good form as he defends the French Open title (Michel Euler/AP)

“Twelve months ago, the situation was quite different,” he said. “Obviously recovering from an elbow surgery, dropping out of the top 20, and everything that I had to face on the court only 12 months ago.

“Twelve months later I hold three slams and being number one of the world, obviously it’s quite a different feeling approaching the tournament, with more confidence, and hopefully I can have a good two weeks.”

Djokovic and Nadal cannot meet until the final, and the Spaniard’s draw did nothing to dispel the feeling that his name may well be on the cup once again.

Nadal initially struggled on clay having battled back from yet another knee problem in Indian Wells in March, losing successive matches to Fabio Fognini, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“I feel myself playing well and my goal is just to keep playing at that level,” said the second seed.

“There are things always that I can improve, small things, and (we are) working on small things. But, in general terms, it’s about being healthy and then just competing well and being fresh mentally and physically.”

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