Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

French Open: Novak Djokovic driven by grand slam as Rafael Nadal shrugs off favourite tag

Roger Federer, meanwhile, does not consider himself a leading contender given his limited time on clay in recent years

Novak Djokovic has won the most recent Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open titles, so a win at the French Open will mean he holds all four grand slam titles at the same time for the second time in his career. Reuters
Novak Djokovic has won the most recent Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open titles, so a win at the French Open will mean he holds all four grand slam titles at the same time for the second time in his career. Reuters

The three most high-profile players in the men’s French Open are approaching the season’s second grand slam with different mindsets, it seems.

World No 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic appeared in determined mood as he aims to hold all four grand slam titles at once for the second time in his career.

The biggest challenge blocking Djokovic’s path is sure to come from defending champion Rafael Nadal, who was keen to play down the favourite tag.

Roger Federer, meanwhile, did not sound confident of his own chances, insisting he was not on the same level as the leading contenders given his limited exposure to clay courts in recent years.

There was no shortage of confidence from Djokovic, though, and the Serbian believes he is finding his best form in time for the French Open.

"This is the tournament I was preparing for. I wanted to peak in this tournament and this is where I want to play my best tennis," said Djokovic, who shrugged off a run of indifferent form since winning the Australian Open to claim the title in Madrid and reach the final in Rome.

The Serb became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four grand slams simultaneously when he won the French Open for the first time in 2016.

Now he stands on the cusp of doing it again, less than a year after many predicted his best days were behind him after his struggle to recover from elbow surgery.

"I'm sure I'm not the only one, but there's extra motivation and incentive to win Roland Garros because of the opportunity to hold all four slams, something I did three years ago, and that gives me enough reason to believe I can do it again."

Confidence and motivation are in plentiful supply for Djokovic, but he admitted that Nadal was the favourite to claim a record-extending 12th title in Paris.

"I think it wouldn't be fair to pick anybody else but him as the main favourite, because he has won this tournament so many times," he added.

"He's lost, what, two times in his career on Parisian clay? So lots of respect for him. We had a good match in Rome. He was a better player. Was just too strong."

Rafael Nadal has only lost two matches at the French Open his entire career. Reuters
Rafael Nadal has only lost two matches at the French Open his entire career. Reuters

It was Nadal’s win over Djokovic in the Italian Open final that restored him as the firm favourite for Roland Garros after three successive semi-final defeats led to some doubts about his chances in Paris.

But the Spanish world No 2 has given little thought to pre-tournament predictions and insisted there is a batch of players all capable of winning the title.

"I don't care if I'm the favourite," he said. "I care about feeling well and playing well.

"I appreciate that you (the media) see me like that, but (Dominic) Thiem, Novak (Djokovic), Federer, Tsitsipas who has been playing well, (Juan Martin) del Potro, (Kei) Nishikori - all those that are the best in the world will be favourites.

"The only thing that worries me is being well and being competitive. The only favourite that matters is the one who has the cup at home in two weeks' time."

Roger Federer has not played at the French Open since 2015. Reuters
Roger Federer has not played at the French Open since 2015. Reuters

Nadal may have included Federer in his list of potential challengers, but the Swiss himself is not so sure of his chances.

Federer, 37, has not played at the French Open since 2015 and only returned to the clay courts this year for the first time in three years.

"(I) don't know (if I can win the tournament). A bit of a question mark for me. Some ways I feel similar to maybe the Australian Open in '17," the 2009 French Open winner said.

"A bit of the unknown. I feel like I'm playing good tennis, but is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I'm not sure if it's in my racquet

"But I hope I can get myself in that position deep down in the tournament against the top guys. But first I need to get there and I know that's a challenge in itself."

Updated: May 25, 2019 05:52 PM

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