Novak Djokovic’s one request at his opening press conference of Roland Garros 2013 was that he be asked no questions at all about any player he might face in the draw, with the exception of his opening-round opponent, the Belgian David Goffin.
Of course it is entirely possible that Djokovic is wishing to focus on one step at a time, round by round, and any player will vouch that is the very definition of tennis wisdom. But it was also possible to conclude that the world number one and top seed was not in the mood to chat about the fact that he finds himself in the same half of the draw as Rafael Nadal – the same Nadal who beat him in four sets a year ago to capture an historic seventh French Open title.
For those who may not recall, in 2012 Goffin became the first lucky loser in a generation to reach the fourth round of a Slam when he took Roger Federer to four sets here in the last 16. (A prize to anyone who knows that Goffin’s compatriot Dick Norman was the last to do it at Wimbledon in 1995). The extraordinarily youthful-looking Belgian is rising up the rankings and no doubt has many worthy qualities – but as a discussion point to rival Nadal, he is a bit of a non-starter.
“Dangerous…talented…knows how to play on clay,” suggested Djokovic of Goffin, and that was that. But he did make it plain that his self-belief is high coming into Roland Garros, and never mind the fact that A Certain Other Player has won six tournaments so far this year.
“I won a Grand Slam (Australia),” pointed out Djokovic helpfully. “I won Monte Carlo. That was important for my confidence. Except for Roland Garros, that is the most important clay court tournament, and I won against the best player on this surface – Nadal. That win against him gives me the necessary mental belief for Roland Garros.”
Madrid and Rome, where he lost to Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych respectively, are seemingly less important for the Serb. “It’s behind me now,” said Djokovic. “I forgot about it. This tournament is the number one priority of my year. This is where I want to win. I’m going to go for it, and I’m very very motivated.”