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Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic prepare for the Mutua Madrid Open.

Djokovic Hopeful Of Further Progress In Madrid

Serb preparing for his third event of European clay swing

Novak Djokovic, the top seed this week at the Mutua Madrid Open, has been eager for competitive match play as he ramps up his activity on the ATP Tour. He got that and more in Belgrade, where he played four three-setters in a runner-up finish at his hometown Serbia Open

Though he lost to Andrey Rublev in a three-set final — "running out of gas", as he described it — Djokovic left the ATP 250 event happy with his performance.

"I was looking to spend more time on the court, and that's what I got. So of course playing finals is a good result and I have to be positive about it," he said in a Madrid pre-tournament presser.

"I like a lot of things about the way I was hitting the ball. Of course it's not at the level still where I wish it to be. It is a process, and I have to be patient. Hopefully things will progress in the right direction also this week."

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While Djokovic attributes the gaps in his game to his lack of match play, he feels his fitness struggles are due to lingering effects from an illness he had prior to Monte Carlo.

"But [it was] different in Belgrade than it was in Monaco," he explained of his fitness level. "Knowing that I played four almost-three-hour matches and long, three-set battles gives me enough reason to believe that it's headed in the right direction.

"I had a very good week of training now, put more emphasis on fitness and building the stamina and endurance, because that's what's going to be necessary in order to compete with top guys on the slowest and physically most demanding surface in our sport."

Djokovic will open his Madrid campaign against Gael Monfils or Spanish wild card Carlos Gimeno Valero. His last-16 matchup promises to be an enticing one against one of Dominic Thiem, Andy Murray, Denis Shapovalov and Ugo Humbert.

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