It's time for Djokovic to break Nadal's stranglehold on French clay

sports May 25, 2014 00:00

By Lerpong Amsa-ngiam

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World No 2 Novak Djokovic has six Grand Slam titles in his trophy cabinet and the only one missing is the French Open. The recent inconsistent form of arch-rival Rafael Nadal on clay has given him hope that this could be the year he could finally break fr

The four Australian Open titles and single crowns at Wimbledon and the US Open are a reflection of Djokovic’s mastery on all courts. He came very close to lifting the French Open title in 2012. And it was the “King of Clay” Nadal who denied him the crown in the final showdown that ended in four sets. Last year, the Serbian led 4-1 in the final set only to see the Spanish Matador blaze past him in the semi-finals.
But unlike several past seasons, Nadal’s total domination on clay has been broken in the past couple of months. The 18-3 record on clay from five tournaments with only two victories in Rio de Janeiro and Madrid, where the field was weak, suggests some decline in Nadal’s game. In Monte Carlo and Barcelona he could reach only the quarter-finals, losing to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro, the players he never had any problems with in the past.
Djokovic’s 2014 statistical record of 24 wins and 3 losses look pretty impressive and the upset win over Nadal last Sunday in Rome clearly explains how dangerous he is coming into Paris. He has entered only two clay court events, including the Monte Carlo Masters, due to an injury to his right arm, which led to an easy defeat to Federer in Monaco.
But that injury did not appear to bother him at all judging from how he played against “Canadian Missile” Milos Raonic in the semi-finals and Nadal in the final. Djokovic also added former Grand Slam champion Boris Becker to his team of coaches apart from long-time coach Marian Vajda to help sharpen his game. All these indicate that he is desperate to win the French Open title.
I am yet to see an active player on the tour who plays better than the Serbian from the baseline. While Nadal tends to give some easy points these days, Djokovic, on the contrary, runs down every shot like a maniac and stuns his rivals with some incredible returns even when he is off the comfort zone. He really has a keen eye for shot prediction, great control of the ball, unbelievable footwork and the ability to whip winners at anytime.
But among all his qualities what stands out is his steely heart. There may have been times when he flopped but the world No 2 is capable of bouncing back at any moment of a match. That’s how he pulled off wins from the jaws of defeat in tough matches including the Australian Open finals against Nadal and Andy Murray in recent years.
The only man who could stand in his way is Roger Federer, who handed him two of the three losses since January. And the two will likely meet in the semi-finals should they live up to their billings.
Djokovic will obviously be pumped up than ever this fortnight due to the stunning decline of Nadal’s prowess, the help he is getting from Becker and the arrival of his first baby with long-time girlfriend Jelena Ristic. All in all, there can never be a better time for the Serbian to win at Roland Garros.

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