Novak Djokovic made history in Paris three years ago when he won Roland-Garros to become the first man since 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.
Djokovic ready to make history in Paris
After winning in Madrid his first title since Australian Open, "Nole" is aiming to claim a fourth major title in a row at Roland-Garros.
It is a remarkable feat not even Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal have managed to pull off and now Djokovic has the chance to go four-in-a-row for a second time in his career when he heads to the French capital later this month.
Djokovic’s journey that followed his maiden Roland-Garros success in 2016 was an arduous one. Winning four straight majors took everything out of him and resulted in a loss of motivation, a worrying dip in form and an elbow injury that required surgery in February 2018.
“I never thought that I would reach the phase where I will be emotionally drained and really kind of put in a position where I have to find a new drive, that I have to find new motivation and that's what I felt,” explained Djokovic of that tough period.
“Aside of the obvious thrill and joy of achieving that, after a little while I just found myself in a strange emotional situation where I just felt quite empty and it took me a while to really reinvent so to say and redefine what I want to get out of my career, how I want to keep on playing tennis and where is the motivation coming from. So, that was one of the biggest turning points in my life, in my career, to be honest.”
It took Djokovic two more years before he tasted victory at a Grand Slam again, lifting the trophy at Wimbledon last season, and he hasn’t lost a match at a major since.
At the US Open last September, he beat Juan Martin del Potro in the final to clinch a 14th Slam, and in Melbourne last January, he picked up a record seventh Australian Open crown with a crushing defeat of Nadal in the title decider.
The 31-year-old went 5-3 win-loss in his next three events, suffering relatively early losses in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte-Carlo. But Djokovic received the confidence boost that he needed with a stellar week in Madrid, where he overcame two of the most in-form players on tour at the moment – Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas – en route to his first clay title since Roland-Garros 2016.
The world number one did not drop a set through his four matches in the Spanish capital (he had a walkover in the quarter-finals due to Marin Cilic’s withdrawal) and looked at his devastating best against Tsitsipas in the final on Sunday.
“I feel like this tournament win was very important for my level of confidence because after Australian Open I wasn't playing my best, I wasn't finding the right game and the consistency on the court,” admitted Djokovic, who was coached by his brother Marko in Madrid this week.
“I felt like I was close and needed a little bit of a push, so to say. And a very important win came yesterday against Thiem in a very close match [in the semis]. And today Stefanos, who had amazing match last night and win against Rafa, probably affected him a little bit. He did not, I think, move as well as he did last night and he was probably a bit tired.”
Now tied with Nadal at the top of the Masters 1000 titlists leaderboard with 33 trophies each at that level, Djokovic will be seeking a 16th Grand Slam success when he heads to Paris in two weeks’ time.
Djokovic has made an art out of peaking at the right time and it appears he is exactly where he wants to be with Roland-Garros just around the corner. His serve and backhand were firing against the 20-year-old Tsitsipas, who the night before had successfully climbed tennis’ Everest by defeating Nadal on clay in Madrid.
“He [Djokovic] has the best backhand on tour I have ever seen in a human being. He controls it so well,” Tsitsipas told reporters at the Caja Magica on Sunday.
“He can play cross, he can play down the line the same way. And that's very difficult to deal with. If the backhand and the serve work really well, he can – that is why he has been dominating for so many years.”
With the tough experience from three years ago still fresh in his memory, Djokovic will join the field at Roland-Garros both older and wiser. He says he has found news ways to stay hungry and believes he’ll exert less pressure on himself in his pursuit of a second non-calendar year Grand Slam.
“When I look back at it right now, I'm grateful because at the time it wasn't easy, of course, because I was reluctant, as we all are, to a change sometimes. It had to be done in order for me to evolve and just keep on growing. And right now, it's quite phenomenal, I'm in the same position again, if I would win the French Open, to achieve this historic achievement again,” says Djokovic.
“I think I'm approaching it with more experience now. I'm approaching it with less additional pressure. I say 'additional' because the pressure is already there. It's normal in a way. I had additional pressure from my side because of anticipation, you know, to win in Roland-Garros in 2015 and '16. So, it's in God's hands.
“If it happens, I think I will be dealing with it definitely much differently than I have three years ago. But there's still a long way to it.”