Novak Djokovic: Why His Calendar Grand Slam Hopes Depend on the Italian Open

Kevin PacelliCorrespondent IMay 19, 2012

ROME, ITALY - MAY 18:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia serves to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France during day seven of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2012 Tennis on May 18, 2012 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

The only thing that could have possibly made Novak Djokovic's 2011 season better was achieving the coveted Calendar Grand Slam, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since Rod Laver's 1969 season. His only setback from that kind of success came from Roger Federer in the semifinals of the French Open, where he lost his first match of the season.

His 2012 started off well; nobody can argue with the positive impression that he left by winning the Australian Open after playing almost 11 hours of final and semifinal action. Since then, however, he hasn't quite been able to live up to the expectations that he set for himself with his 2011 season. He had titles to defend in Indian Wells, Madrid, and Miami, but only managed to reclaim the Miami throne. As opposed to being undefeated (as he was at this point last year), he currently has four losses.

With the French Open quickly approaching, the Serb is obviously one of the biggest stories. Will he be able to keep hopes of the Calendar Grand Slam alive with a title in Roland Garros, or will he experience the same disappointing fate as he did last year on the red courts of Paris? The question is still shrouded in uncertainty, but the next two days of play in Rome will definitely be a good indicator.

Djokovic is currently preparing for an Italian Open semifinal with Federer that will undoubtedly be quite a battle. Fed, who has been playing so well these past two weeks in Madrid (where he won the title on the controversial "smurf" clay) and Rome, should be very confident going into this clash. All but three of his matches in Madrid and Rome so far have been straight set victories in his favor. Djokovic is also playing well in the Italian Open, but having dropped in the quarterfinals of Madrid to fellow countryman Janko Tipsarevic, he is not on the hot streak that his Swiss opponent is.

The Djoker's advantage will come in the form of motivation. We can be sure that he knows the implications this tournament has on his chances at the French Open, and if he loses to Federer on clay for the second consecutive time, he will naturally be afraid of him entering Roland Garros. With a victory on the other hand, he will show that one French Open semifinal says nothing about who is the better player on clay.

Then comes the other major threat in the form of clay king Rafa Nadal. Whoever wins the Fed-Novak semifinal will have to face the Spaniard in the final tomorrow, and if it's Djokovic, the match will be the definition of a must-win.

Before Monte Carlo, the Serb boasted a string of seven consecutive wins against his top rival. After crushing Djokovic in that final, though, Nadal has begun a slow-but-sure process of confidence build-up. One more win over him on clay, and Rafa will prove that he is in no way inferior. 

With a loss to Federer in the semifinals of the Italian Open, Djokovic will be boosting the Swiss Maestro's confidence for the next time that they meet, which may very well be at Roland Garros. With a loss to Nadal in the finals, he will be losing the edge that he currently posseses over the Spaniard, based on recent head-to-head record.

In other words, if Novak Djokovic hopes to win the French Open, thus keeping Calendar Slam hopes alive and achieving the Career Grand Slam, a title in Rome is entirely necessary.