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For Djokovic, all roads lead to Roland-Garros

The world No 1 begins his Serbia Open title bid on Wednesday but is already thinking ahead to the big one in Paris

Novak Djokovic, Monte-Carlo 2022 Novak Djokovic, Monte-Carlo 2022 (© AI / Reuters / Panoramic)

Novak Djokovic will be looking for a big improvement this week as he defends his Serbia Open title in Belgrade.

Beaten in his opening match in Monte-Carlo last week, in just his second tournament of the year, the world No 1 admits he needs matches to get up to the “desired level”, having missed the Australian Open and back to back Masters 1000s in Indian Wells and Miami because he is not vaccinated against Covid-19.

But while playing on home soil, as always, will be a matter of huge pride for Djokovic, the 34-year-old is focused on getting his game where it needs to be in time for next month’s Roland-Garros, where he is the defending champion, having won it for a second time 12 months ago.

Peaking at Grand Slams is something all top players try to do, but this year it’s even more relevant for Djokovic after what happened in Australia, where he was held for several nights at a detention centre in a Melbourne hotel before the country’s government eventually decided he would not be allowed in.

Covid-19 restrictions then prevented him from entering the United States last month, but with rules easing around the world, Djokovic can now focus on getting his game in order as he builds towards Paris, which he readily admits is his next big goal.

“Roland Garros is the quintessential clay-court tournament and I’m partly already there in my thoughts, in terms of preparation and everything I’m doing at the moment to get there as ready as I can be,” Djokovic told reporters on the eve of the event.

Djokovic: “I wasn’t fully ready for Monte-Carlo”

Having played just one event before Monte-Carlo this year – in Dubai, where he was beaten in the quarter-finals – Djokovic arrived in the Principality undercooked, not ready physically for the test of playing the world’s top players on clay.

He was beaten by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, the eventual runner-up, in the second round, with his lack of match fitness showing in the third set as he faded against the Spaniard.

His coach, Goran Ivanisevic, later revealed that Djokovic had been ill in the lead-up to the event and the world No 1 admits he was not in the right shape to make a good run in Monte-Carlo, where Stefanos Tsitsipas won the title for the second year in a row.

ATP Masters 1000 - Monte Carlo Masters
Tennis – ATP Masters 1000 – Monte Carlo Masters – Monte-Carlo Country Club, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France – April 12, 2022 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during his second round match against Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina || 227651_0097

“I was not fully ready for the tournament in Monte Carlo and I knew that before the tournament started,” Djokovic said. “However, I need match practice and this is the surface that requires a lot of time spent on the court during training sessions, and even more during matches.

“I’m excited to play more matches. I feel like I need more matches, more competition and more match play to get my game closer to the desired level.”

Djokovic planning to play Madrid and Rome

With Rafael Nadal back in practice after fracturing a rib in Indian Wells, Djokovic will know that he needs to assert himself as the clay-court season unfolds. To that end, he intends to compete in both Masters 1000s before Roland-Garros.

“My current plans include Madrid and Rome,” he said. “It depends, really, on my result here and the shape I’m in. We’ll decide then.”

Djokovic’s first match will be on Wednesday against world No 50 Laslo Djere, who beat 18-year-old Hamad Medjedovic 6-4, 7-5 on Tuesday.

Playing in Belgrade last year – when it was held the week before Roland-Garros – proved to be key for his confidence. Though it’s a few weeks earlier this year, he’ll hope that the boost he receives from playing at home will produce a similar result.

After that, all roads lead to Paris.

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