French Open

Wary Djokovic on brink of history

2015-05-21 07:08
Novak Djokovic (AFP)

Paris - Novak Djokovic can become just the eighth man to complete the career Grand Slam with a maiden French Open victory, but the world number one steps into Roland Garros badly bruised by his Paris history.

Djokovic, who turns 28 on Friday, two days before the start of the season's second major, is the overwhelming favourite to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires and claim his ninth career Grand Slam title.

Victory would take him alongside Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as a winner of all four majors.

It would also take him halfway to a calendar Grand Slam, a challenge so daunting that only Budge (1938) and Laver (1962 and 1969) have managed to pull it off.

Djokovic comes into Paris riding a 22-match winning streak, a season which has already seem him capture a fifth Australian Open as well as Masters titles in Indian Wells, Miami and on clay at Monte Carlo and Rome.

However, the Serb has been in this situation before.

In 2011, he entered the French Open as hot favourite but saw a 43-match winning sequence ended by Federer in the semi-finals.

A year later, Djokovic was defeated by Nadal in a four-set final which was completed on the third Monday because of rain.

In 2013, it was the Spaniard who again came out on top, this time in the semi-finals despite Djokovic having led 4-2 in the fifth set.

Twelve months ago, Nadal claimed his ninth title as Djokovic wilted once more in the championship match.

No surprise then to see Djokovic, whose overall 2015 record reads 35 wins and just two losses, trying to contain the hype ahead of his 11th French Open.

"I don't think that I need to gear up or do anything special in order to be successful at Roland Garros. I have been very close to that title before, played several finals," he said after beating Federer 6-4, 6-3 to win a fourth Rome title last weekend.

"I just need to continue preparing myself for that event as I prepare for any other, try to keep the routine going and hope it will take me where I want to be."

- 'Life goes on' -

Nadal goes into the French Open with his astonishing record of nine titles, 66 wins and just one loss.

But the 28-year-old defending champion has slumped to seven in the world, his lowest ranking since 2005, the year of his maiden Roland Garros title.

Nadal heads for Paris without a European clay-court title for the first time in a decade and his relatively humble ranking means he could come across the likes of Djokovic, Federer or in-form Andy Murray as early as the quarter-finals.

"I'm going to be ranked lower than ever playing Roland Garros, so that will mean the chance to play against very tough opponents," 14-time major winner Nadal said.

"At the same time, if I go to Roland Garros and I lose and I don't play well, life continues. It's not the end of the world."

Federer completed the career Grand Slam with his only French Open triumph in 2009.

A five-time finalist, the 33-year-old has endured steadily diminishing returns in Paris with a 2011 runners-up spot followed by the semi-finals in 2012, a quarter-final exit in 2013 and a shock fourth round defeat to Ernests Gulbis 12 months ago,

Federer, who won the last of his record 17 majors at Wimbledon in 2012, believes it would be foolish to write off Nadal.

"It's going to be best-of-five sets. We know how tough Rafa is physically and mentally. He is the favourite still to me. Novak at this point probably has to win, with the results he's shown this year. It feels similar to 2011 when he didn't lose the whole year."

World number three Murray has surprisingly emerged as Djokovic's greatest threat.

After failing to lift a claycourt trophy in 10 years of trying, the Scot suddenly won two in the space of six days in Munich and Madrid.

The 28-year-old has a 10-0 record on clay this year and was the first marquee name to practice at Roland Garros on Monday.

Murray, who has twice been a semi-finalist at the French Open, losing in straight sets to Nadal in 2011 and 2014, withdrew from Rome after one match to safeguard his Paris campaign.

Read more on:    french open  |  novak djokovic  |  tennis

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