Djokovic defiant after home comforts and title boost

 - Alex Sharp

World No.1 heads to Roland-Garros after winning his 83rd career title in Belgrade on Saturday

Novak Djokovic, Roland-Garros 2020©Philippe Montigny / FFT

The crowd was chanting out “Nole, Nole, Nole,” with Novak Djokovic blowing kisses to his children in the stands.

The overjoyed world No.1 was soaking up all the adulation after lifting his third title on home soil in Belgrade, this time at the Novak Tennis Centre, dismissing the spirited qualifier Alex Molcan 6-4, 6-3, before firing a warning to his rivals in Paris.

“I like my chances at Roland-Garros,” declared the Serbian.

“To be holding the trophy here after 10 years is really special. It couldn’t be a better lead up to Roland-Garros. It definitely gives me a great feeling, great sensation and boost of confidence flying into Paris. Winning the trophy is the best farewell to Paris for me.”

Djokovic, who opens his Roland-Garros 2021 account against world No.66 Tennys Sandgren (3-0 record) on Tuesday, clearly relished the home comforts and support in Belgrade, with the rare chance to be in Serbia before a major.

“I’ve been able to spend quality time with my family. Being with friends and family, being able to go out," said the 2016 Roland-Garros champion. "The bubble restrictions we’ve been living with on tour for almost a year have been tough mentally, so it’s great I’ve had the chance to be here this week.”

The revitalised 34-year-old will be seeking his second Coupe des Mousquetaires in a fortnight and believes he’s peaking at just the right time.

Off kilter in Monte Carlo, he was dismissed by Brit Dan Evans, before a three-hour marathon at the Belgrade 1 event saw Djokovic fall to world No.26 Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals. However, the 18-time major winner’s level cranked up several notches to reach the Rome finale, which culminated in a compelling three-set triumph for Rafael Nadal

“I’m thrilled with the way I’ve been playing this week, I’m very satisfied,” continued the world No.1. “I feel since Rome I’ve just been striking the ball better, find the timing, using the court better, moving better. I’m not a half a step late like I was in Monte Carlo.

“I feel like Rome and this tournament have been really important for the confidence, for my preparation for Roland-Garros.

“I’m ready and very motivated. All my attention and energy is now directed to Paris. It’s one of the highest goals this season and hopefully I’ll be able to kick-start that tournament in the best possible way and work my way deep into the tournament.”

Djokovic loves to rewrite the history books. A final victory on Court Philippe-Chatrier next month would make Djokovic the only man in the Open Era to win every Grand Slam twice.

The top seed is also chasing down his ‘Big Three’ rivals in the majors race – Roger Federer and Nadal are currently leading the men’s all-time list on 20. Remarkably all three sit inside the top half of the men’s draw.

“I saw the draw,” Djokovic chuckled. “It’s the first time, I think ever, where Roger, Rafa and myself are in the same half of the draw in any Grand Slam. 

“It’s going to be very interesting for sure. Only one of us can make the final. I’m going to obviously do my best to be that guy who reaches the final match.”

His coach Goran Ivanisevic indicated playing Nadal before the final could help the 18-time Grand Slam champion, but Djokovic wasn’t quite sure.

“I don’t think it makes any significant difference, facing him semi-finals or finals. We’ll see, if we both get to the semis. Playing him first round or finals is the highest challenge you can have, playing Rafa on clay,” added Djokovic, who fell in straight sets to Nadal in last year’s final.

“I’ve faced him many times on the centre court at Roland-Garros and I know how it feels. But I feel after our match in Rome (7-5, 1-6, 6-3 to Nadal) that I have a good chance of playing him or playing anybody.

“I trust my abilities, I’m feeling well and just won here so I come into Paris with good strength and power. It’s a long way to a possible match with Rafa, so let’s take it step by step."