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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Sunday, May 26, 2024


Struggling world No. 1 Novak Djokovic aims to simplify his approach, but admits he won't be satisfied unless he successfully defends in Paris.

Photo credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty

Roland Garros’ red clay courts don’t come with speed bumps.

Arriving in Paris with a 14-6 record and his world No. 1 ranking in peril, Novak Djokovic sees ridges and room for success on the red clay path ahead.

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Reigning Roland Garros champion Djokovic opened his pre-tournament presser sharing his state of mind: “low expectations and high hopes.”

When you’re Grand Slam king and one of only three men in Open Era history with 1,100 career wins as Djokovic is, then you carry much more than a bulls-eye on your back.

Djokovic shared his true mission statement in Paris: Anything short of capturing a 25th Grand Slam title will be unsatisfactory.

“I almost feel a bit embarrassed to say what my expectations are,” Djokovic told the media in Paris. “You know, anything but a title for me is not satisfactory, you know. So it always has been like that.

“I know, you know, it might sound arrogant to a lot of people, but I think I have the career that backs it up. In a way, me playing still at this highest level, one of the major reasons is trying to, you know, write more history of the sport and win the biggest titles that, you know, Paris is definitely one of them.”

The top-seeded Serbian opens against French wild card Pierre Hugues Herbert and while he is short on match play and confidence, Djokovic knows the time to peak is now—and he has a career full of experience rising to deliver some of his best tennis at bleakest times.

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Djokovic says it’s all about simplifying his approach rather than reducing his goals.

“I have been saying, you know, for quite a while that in terms of clay I want to peak here in Paris, in Roland Garros,” Djokovic said. “Last year I had an amazing year, and particularly here in Roland Garros, and hopefully I can, yeah, have a great tournament.

“Of course it does affect me, you know, the five months that I had so far in the year that haven't been great in terms of my tennis. That's why I have, you know, a kind of an approach that is focused on a daily basis more trying to build the form and momentum so that I can have a better chance to reach further in the tournament.”

We all know Djokovic is one of the most dominant closers in Open Era history. The owner of 98 career titles, Djokovovic owns a 38-11 career record in five setters, a .776 career winning percentage.

Yet, seeing the 37-year-old Serbian superstar's right hand tremble during a medical timeout in Geneva last week—not the first time Djokovic has looked physically vulnerable in recent weeks—-and you wonder if he’s coping with an unknown illness, virus or injury.

Asked directly if he’s battling with physical challenges, Djokovic replied “I don’t want to get into it” instead choosing to focus his energy “on what needs to be done.”

“Well, it's various things that were happening in the last couple of months, but I don't want to get into it,” Djokovic told the media in Paris. “I hope you understand that. It's just I don't want open Pandora Box and talk about things.

“Just really try to focus myself on what needs to be done. What has happened, happened, and it's in the past. It's, you know, something that I can't affect anymore, but I can kind of learn to rectify certain things and right the certain things that are wrong and really not serving the purpose of my highest performance level.”


A post shared by Novak Djokovic (@djokernole)

Can the 24-time Grand Slam champion, who is six months removed from his 98th and last title at the ATP Finals in Turin, turn it on to defend in Paris?

Opponents say action speaks louder the words and the Grand Slam king’s performances in Slams—his skill showing major resilience when most needed—make him the favorite despite the fact he’s seeking his first final of the year in Paris.

“ I wouldn't put myself in the list just because I don't want to kind of put pressure on myself, but I would put Novak up there definitely,” French Open finalist Casper Ruud said. “It's not a big if, but, you know, depending on how Carlos, Jannik, and kind of Rafa feels, I feel like those three are also worth mentioning.

“If they are injury-free, I would consider them, well, four then. I would go with four guys. It's tough to kind of leave any of those out due to the fact that Rafa has won here 14 times and then Jannik and Carlos have been the sort of best of the younger generation in the past year or two. So I think that's a good list of four.”

Ruud, who toppled Djokovic in Monte-Carlo last month, echoed comments by Wimbledon winner Carlos Alcaraz, who named Djokovic, king of clay Rafa Nadal and Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner as his top three favorites to capture La Coupe des Mousquetaires on the tournament’s final Sunday.

The master of so many major Sunday finals, Djokovic says he’s focused on day-to-day improvements as he strives to find his form—-and capture a record-extending 25th Grand Slam crown.

“That's why my hopes and goals are always the same, but I have to lower the expectations,” Djokovic said. “When I say that I mean, you know, maybe not thinking too much ahead in advance in terms of the tournament and who I might face in the later rounds, but really taking it day by day, step by step, and really building my game. Because that's what I have really been struggling with, not really playing in a consistently good level.”

Before that happens, Djokovic plans to watch rival Rafael Nadal face Rome champion Alexander Zverev in a blockbuster opening round showdown.

"I mean, if I don't have anything smarter to do at that point, I'll definitely watch," Djokovic said. "I don't know. Are they playing night session? Day session? Well, that will make it a bit more difficult for me, because I have obligations during the day, but I will try to catch as much as I can from that match.

"I think everyone will want to see what will happen."


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