PARIS (Reuters) – World number one Novak Djokovic believes he is peaking at the perfect moment to win four successive Grand Slam titles for the second time in his career by capturing the French Open.
The Serb became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously when he won the French Open for the first time in 2016.
Now he stands on the cusp of doing it again, less than a year after many predicted his best days were behind him after his struggle to recover from elbow surgery.
After a dip in form following his Australian Open triumph this year, the 15-times Grand Slam winner has impressed on the European claycourts, winning the Madrid title and reaching the final in Rome where he was beaten by French Open holder Rafael Nadal.
He arrived at Roland Garros in peak condition and high on confidence.
“This is the tournament I was preparing for, so to say, for last couple of months I wanted to peak in this tournament and this is where I want to play my best tennis,” Djokovic told reporters on Friday.
“I’m sure I’m not the only one, but there’s extra motivation and incentive to win Roland Garros because of the opportunity to hold all four slams, something I did three years ago, and that gives me enough reason to believe I can do it again.”
Last year in Paris Djokovic showed glimpses of his best form before falling to Italian Marco Cecchinato in the quarter-finals — then angrily walking into a press conference saying he was considering skipping Wimbledon.
Instead he regrouped and took the title a few weeks later on the London lawns, before winning the U.S. Open and this year’s Melbourne title to reach 15 Grand Slam titles — five behind the mark of Roger Federer.
The 32-year-old said he had tweaked his strategy in recent months to peak at the Grand Slams.
“Because at this stage of my career, those are the ones that matter the most for me,” Djokovic added.
“Those are the tournaments where I want to play my best. So we try to obviously set up a training schedule that would allow me to reach the top of my potential physically, emotionally, mentally for the Grand Slam.”
Djokovic said Nadal was the favorite to claim a record-extending 12th title in Paris.
“I think it wouldn’t be fair to pick anybody else but him as the main favorite, because he has won this tournament so many times,” he added.
“He’s lost, what, two times in his career on Parisian clay? So lots of respect for him. We had a good match in Rome. He was a better player. Was just too strong.”
Djokovic faces a tricky opener against Poland’s 43rd-ranked Hubert Hurkacz with a possible second-round against Sam Querrey, the American who beat him at Wimbledon three years ago.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru and Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)