Djokovic fixes sights on Federer's record double

 - Dan Imhoff

An unprecedented 36th Masters 1000 trophy in Rome has Novak Djokovic aiming higher

Novak Djokovic - Roland-Garros 2019 - 2e tour©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Novak Djokovic makes no secret of the two significant milestones fuelling his career from this point forward.

The Serb will arrive in Paris as the top seed for Roland-Garros and with another record under his belt – a fifth Rome trophy on Monday edging him clear of Rafael Nadal with an unparalleled 36 Masters 1000 titles.

Djokovic admitted his Rome run was far from his finest performance, but a remarkable achievement in context.

Only two weeks after being defaulted from the US Open, it was an emphatic response, turning the letdown into immediate success.

“I don’t think I played my best tennis during the week, but I found my best level when I needed to,” Djokovic said.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I haven’t played my best tennis. I still have a few gears and I am going to need to get there in order to achieve a good result at Roland-Garros.”

Take it from his vanquished – but far from overwhelmed – opponent in the Rome final, Diego Schwartzman.

The Argentine had broken through for a career-defining first win in 18 meetings against any of the Big Three when he toppled Nadal in the quarter-finals.

Despite having led by a double break in the first set against Djokovic, the hurdle of beating the world’s top two to capture a maiden Masters 1000 title ultimately proved too high.

“You are a crazy player, you are so good,” Schwartzman said following the 7-5, 6-3 result.

As focus pivots to Paris, Djokovic returns to the site of where he completed the career Grand Slam – achieved in 2016 – and the ensuing task of reeling in Roger Federer’s record haul of 20 major titles.

The Serb this week surpassed Pete Sampras for second most weeks as world No.1 and also has Federer’s mark of 310 weeks in his sights.

He is now guaranteed to hold top spot in the rankings for at least 293 weeks, to 9 November, leaving him a mere 17 weeks shy of the Swiss great’s mark.

“Of course I'm aware of the amount of weeks, and I don't know exactly the date, but I know it's going to be in probably the first or beginning of the second quarter of next year if I eventually maintain my No.1 ranking,” Djokovic said.

“I'm getting closer. I'm in a very good position, I feel like I have been also playing really well and been healthy, which is great.

“Yes… those are the two biggest professional goals that I have at the moment. So the historic No.1 ranking goal is something that is on the horizon, and I'm going to give my all and very best that I can possibly give in the next period to achieve that.

“But also, after that slams will be the big one, of course… I don't know what years to come will bring for me and just tennis and the world in general.”

Despite Nadal’s earlier-than-expected departure from the Italian capital, the Serb was quick to downplay any talk of favouritism heading into Roland-Garros.

He remains the only man to beat the Spaniard in the current three Masters 1000 events on clay and at Roland-Garros, yet the chasm between his one and Nadal’s 12 Coupe des Mousquetaires was telling, in his eyes.

“It’s Nadal. Even though he lost this week, I still think, a lot of people will agree, he's the number one favourite and the record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can't put anybody in front of him,” Djokovic said.

“Definitely Diego showed that Nadal is beatable on clay. The conditions that they played on, obviously heavy clay, not much bounce, humid, night session, we are going to have that as well in Paris.”

Autumn conditions and Nadal’s record considered, Djokovic in Rome was a foreboding warning for the Roland-Garros field should he find those extra gears.