The only way that Novak Djokovic is going to his win his first title at Roland Garros is if he can play just as well as he did recently at the Monte Carlo Masters, if not better.
Just over a month ago, Djokovic accomplished what few had done in the past. He managed to top Rafael Nadal on clay. Nadal has won five clay tournaments this season while losing just two. Overall, Nadal is 31-2 on the year when playing on clay.
Coming into the duel, Nadal had won his 46 previous matches and eight straight titles at Monte Carlo. Needless to say, Djokovic entered the match as the underdog, even if he was the top-ranked player in the world.
“Rafa, thank you for allowing me to win it once,” Djokovic said after the victory, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). “I couldn’t ask for a better start to the clay season.”
In the match, Djokovic cruised through the first set, winning 6-2. In the second set, Nadal gave him a run for his money, but it wasn’t enough as the Joker wound up winning, 7-6 (1).
I knew after yesterday’s match that I had a feeling that I had a big chance to win against Rafa if I was on the top of my game. The first six, seven games, eight games, were unbelievable. It’s the best that I can play on clay.
If Djokovic plans on making a deep run at the French Open this year, he’ll have to repeat his Monte Carlo performance. He lost in the finals to Nadal last year and fell in the semifinals the year prior. In his career, he’s 31-8 at Roland Garros.
This year’s tournament will be particularly difficult for Djokovic to win, even though he has already shown that he’s improving on clay. That’s because of the withdrawal of Andy Murray from the French Open and the way the seeds were realigned.
Instead of getting the opportunity to take on Nadal in a rematch of last year’s final, he’ll have to defeat him in the semifinals—that’s if Nadal makes it that far, which I think we can all agree is likely. Nadal has an easy road to the semifinals, as does Djokovic.
Djokovic will have to hope that his skills that won him the title at Monte Carlo return against Nadal a second time and that he’s able to win in the final—where Roger Federer could be waiting for him. It’s safe to say that it won’t be easy to win it all at Roland Garros, but it’s still very much possible.
Murray, who will be watching the tournament from home, threw in his two cents as to who he thought might win the potential semifinal matchup and he had an interesting answer, according to an interview with ESPN. You can watch the full interview below, but here’s the main point (h/t Sports Illustrated):
I think if it heats up, if it’s warm, I take Rafa. If it’s sort of rainy and damp and cold then that changes things. It gives Novak, in my opinion, a much better chance of winning.
I mean, Rafa in those hot conditions in the clay, I think he’s incredibly difficult to beat. He’s never really lost on those courts when he’s been 100 percent fit. I would say Rafa’s the favorite for that match and I would pick him regardless of the conditions but I think it’s a lot closer if the conditions are like they were when they stopped the final last year.
An intriguing response from Murray, in my opinion. You, of course, can disagree.
As Murray pointed out, Nadal would still be the favorite no matter what the conditions are, but things could get interesting if the conditions aren’t great. If it’s raining and Djokovic feels good about his game, we could be in store for a long, yet exciting semifinal match at Roland Garros.
And if the Joker can get the best of Nadal on clay for the second time this year, there’s no doubt that he could take the trophy in the final.