Why Novak Djokovic Can Win Roland Garros

Novak Djokovic Monte Carlo
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When you look at the career of Novak Djokovic on clay, it includes seven wins against Rafael Nadal, five Roland Garros finals, and also ten Masters titles. Looking at it like that there should be a huge question mark over how the Serb only has one Major title in the French capital. After last year’s hammering by the great Spaniard in the final, there’s no doubt many people think he doesn’t have much of a chance this year. But I partly disagree, and here’s why.

  1. He’s still the second best player on clay

When you look at the old Djokovic on clay, like in 2015 and 2016, he’s now a whole different player. While the 18-time Grand Slam champion has declined on the surface more so compared to hard courts and grass, his level is still ultimately better than everyone besides Nadal–highlighted by his Madrid win in 2019, and his Rome win last year alongside another Roland Garros final. For a while it did look like Dominic Thiem was the second best player on the surface. Ultimately, even despite two Roland Garros finals, the Austrian has disappointed. Thiem has yet to win a clay Master, and suffered a shock Round 1 exit this tournament. Even though the 13-time Roland Garros champion has constantly defeated Djokovic on this surface the last few years, the Serb is still the second best around.

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  1. It’s a very nice draw

If we look at the Serb’s draw, it’s fair to say it’s favorable, at least compared to his rivals. He begins against Tennys Sandgren, who he has a perfect 3-0 record against. The second round match will be against either Lucas Pouille or Pablo Cuevas. The seed in his section (Ugo Humber) has already lost, so the third round shouldn’t be much trouble. After that Djokovic like faces Alex De Minaur, who has barely won matches on the clay. Then, in the quarterfinals, a 39-year-old Roger Federer–who’s played just a handful of matches in the past 18 months. If Federer doesn’t reach the quarterfinals, the only potential opponent who can challenge Djokovic is Matteo Berrettini. It’s clear that the route to the semifinals is more or less as ideal as can be. Of course, the issue is that Nadal is most likely the one who will await him in the semis. But it really is the perfect draw to make the last four stress free without wasting too much energy.

  1. Rafael Nadal is the semifinal

Just moving on from the point above, even though it may seem like a bad thing it might not be in reality. Djokovic himself has said it won’t make much difference playing the King of Clay in a semifinal opposed to final, but perhaps it may. If we look at all Nadal’s previous wins against the 2016 Roland Garros champion here, only a single match has gone to five sets–and that was also in the semifinals back in 2013. Djokovic’s only win himself against the Spaniard here also came in the quarterfinals. Possibly, when the two play before finals, the pressure is somewhat off the World #1.

  1. He’s done it before

When people suggest that the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas or Alexander Zverev could “shock the world” and bring home the Roland Garros title they’re missing two key aspects: First, neither has ever won the French Open or any Grand Slam before. Also, neither has beaten Nadal in Paris. The nine-time Australian Open champion has achieved both. He won the title in 2016, alongside the 2015 straight-sets demolition of the World #3. When push comes to shove later on in the event, The Serbian can thrive on past experiences and triumphs.

Conclusion

I’m not going to sit here and pretend like Novak Djokovic winning a second Roland Garros title is likely. We all know it’s not, as long as Rafael Nadal is around. However, when it comes down to the person who’s most likely to take the King of Clay down on his beloved court, there’s no doubt it’s the World #1 by a very long distance. Plus, you never know what could happen. In 2009 Robin Soderling shocked the world and beat the Spaniard, allowing for Roger Federer to win his one and only French Open. Maybe someone could defy the odds again this year and open the door for everyone else, Novak Djokovic included.

Main Photo from Getty.