Novak Djokovic Hoping to Peak in Time for French Open Title Defence

World number one Novak Djokovic said his Italian Open victory was the perfect time to get back in shape as he looks to retain his French Open title after mixed results earlier on the clay court.

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, a 20-time Grand Slam winner in Monte Carlo, and Andrei Rublev lost in the Belgrade final in April before losing to youngster Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals of Madrid this month.

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Unable to defend his Australian Open title due to his refusal to vaccinate against COVID-19, Djokovic snatched his first title in over six months when he won in Rome last week without dropping a set.

“This surface is the most demanding … it takes a lot of effort mentally, emotionally and physically,” Djokovic told reporters on Friday. “For me, it has historically taken some time and many tournaments to feel really comfortable playing on clay.

“I’ve rarely felt my best on clay in the first or second tournament of the season. That was the case this season again. I needed two laps to really feel I was getting close to it.

“The Roma tournament has been very successful for me in my career, and it was really timely. I always managed to get to the late stages of that tournament in the week before Paris, which is the perfect time to get back in shape.”

Hoping to put his turbulent start to the season behind him, Djokovic said 13-times Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal and flamboyant Alcaraz were among the favorites to beat Roland Garros but added that he was confident of repeating his success last year.

Djokovic, who turns 35 on Sunday when he begins his title defense against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, will be level with Nadal’s 21 Grand Slam titles if he wins in Paris.

“Nadal should always be on top, because of his records, especially in this tournament,” Djokovic said. “Then you have Alcaraz which is the story of men’s tennis for the last four or five months… It has taken a quantum leap forward.

“I feel like I’m always competing to fight for any Grand Slam title. I believe in my own abilities. I believe in my own abilities to go far and fight for one of the finest prizes in the world of tennis.

“As a defending champion of course more, (I) think I can do it again. Bringing back memories from last year is something that obviously gives me goosebumps and the motivation to try to repeat it.”

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