The French Open has been a tale of heartbreak in recent years for Novak Djokovic.
In 2011, he came into the tournament without a blemish on his record and with two straight-set victories over French Open king Rafael Nadal in Madrid and Rome, only to fall to Roger Federer in the semifinals. The following year, Djokovic made it to his first final at Roland Garros but fell to Nadal in a two-day match that was interrupted by rain.
Then came 2013, and it seemed as if Djokovic was finally going to break through at the French Open when he held a break lead on Nadal in the fifth set of the semifinals. However, Nadal persevered to win 9-7, sending Djokovic home yet again.
The world No. 2 may finally be primed to complete his career Grand Slam with a French Open title in 2014. If he does so, he will become only the eighth man in the history of tennis to do so.
First, he is going to have to knock off the reigning champion Nadal, who just so happens to hold a record eight titles at the event.
Beating Nadal on clay may be the most difficult task in all of sports right now, let alone tennis. After all, if the Miami Heat win the NBA title this year, it will only be their third straight championship. That’s less than 50 percent of the way to Nadal’s mark of eight at Roland Garros.
However, Djokovic, who is a six-time major winner himself, has beaten Nadal four consecutive times. What’s more, his win in the previous tournament against Nadal in the Rome Masters came on clay, so there is clearly some momentum on Djokovic’s side.
Knowing that I have gotten closer and closer each year to the title gives me enough reason to be confident for the start of the year. It’s a Grand Slam. It’s a two-week long event, best-of-five [sets], and there is a feeling that almost all of the players who are participating in the event have an extra motivation to perform well.
Djokovic will officially become part of tennis royalty with a French Open championship this year, and given the stakes and his recent run of success against Nadal, Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated actually picked Djokovic to win:
It's starting to feel a lot of like his opportunity. He's come close in recent years, particularly in 2013 when he was up a break in the fifth set of the semifinals against Nadal. If he can avoid injury and continue his mastery of Nadal, we're likely to have another career-Slam winner.
This is the first time Nadal will start the French Open with three clay losses, and he only has a single European clay title for the entire season (the Madrid Open, and only after Kei Nishikori retired in the third set). If there was ever a time for Djokovic to strike, it is now.
Still, Nadal is 59-1 in the last nine years at the French Open, so just because he appears somewhat vulnerable entering the tournament doesn’t mean Djokovic is a lock to win. However, the opportunity to make history is there for the taking.
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