Novak Djokovic admitted on Sunday that he was “far away” to win Roland Garros where he is likely to dethrone his rival and 13-time Paris champion Rafael Nadal. Djokovic may be world number one, but it is Nadal who is the undisputed king of clay in the French capital where he has lost only twice in 102 matches since 2005. On Sunday, Djokovic again felt all Nadal’s raw power on clay as the Spaniard clinched a 10th Italian Open title with a 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 victory in the final. In the duo’s 57th meeting, the victory also brought Nadal to the level of his Serbian rival in 36 Masters 1000 titles.
“Coming to Paris gives me a good feeling,” Djokovic insisted despite a roller coaster swing on clay that resulted in a round of 16 outing in Monte Carlo and a home semi-final loss in Belgrade.
Nadal, by comparison, has two titles in Rome and Barcelona but sobering quarter-final losses in Monte Carlo and Madrid.
“I actually started to feel like I really wanted to feel on clay,” added Djokovic.
“So I think if I can play the way I played last night (against Lorenzo Sonego in the three-set semi-final) and today I think I have a good chance of making it to bout in Paris.
“Of course, it’s far.”
Djokovic has 18 Grand Slam titles to his name – two behind the record of 20 shared by Nadal and Roger Federer.
However, only one of them was captured at Roland Garros, in 2016 when Nadal retired with a wrist injury after the second round.
Djokovic was swept away by Nadal in the 2020 final.
Previously, he had lost three other finals in Paris, two also against Nadal and one against Stan Wawrinka.
However, Djokovic still has a place in the record books to target as he hopes to become the first man in over half a century, and just the third in history, to win all four majors more than once.
In addition, there is only one of the two men left to beat Nadal at Roland Garros, in the last eight in 2015.
For Nadal, Roland Garros, which begins on May 30, is a chance for a 14th Parisian title and a 21st Grand Slam title.
“I really wanted this title,” Nadal, 34, said on Sunday after winning his 10th trophy in Rome.
“It was one of the first important titles I won in my career. I had won 10 in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros and I really wanted this one too.”
Djokovic will play on clay again in Belgrade the week before Roland Garros.
Nadal will return home to Mallorca to polish his game.
“I think I improved this week, but I have to continue with this improvement,” he said on Sunday.
“When you improve yourself and are able to do it every day for longer, you feel more confident and more secure.”
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