Djokovic: 'Rafa Is A Clear Favourite On Any Clay Court'
Novak Djokovic may be the top player in the ATP Rankings. But with the European clay-court swing getting underway at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, the Serbian admits that 11-time champion Rafael Nadal is the favourite.
“I think Rafa is obviously always a very clear favourite on any clay court in the world and that doesn’t change. He’s still there,” Djokovic said. “If he’s physically fit he’s definitely the No. 1 guy on this surface, without a doubt.”
Nadal has not competed since withdrawing ahead of the BNP Paribas Open semi-finals due to pain in his right knee. But the lefty is ready to go in Monte-Carlo, looking to become the first player to win 12 titles at a single ATP Tour event.
“After him, it’s quite open,” Djokovic said of the contenders on clay. “Zverev has done really well on clay the past few years. Dominic Thiem, of course. Roger is going to play as well this season, so that’s great for tennis. I think it is pretty open.”
“I thought tennis was missing him definitely on clay last year. But I think, personally, people understood why he decided as well to skip the clay-court season last year and I also understand why he wants to play. Definitely for our sport, it’s better that he plays,” Djokovic said. “He’s been playing some great tennis. Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, he’s won two out of three, played the final in Indian Wells, [which is] as good as it gets. Of course [clay is] a different surface, but in Indian Wells the ball bounces quite high there, which kind of imitates the clay. He’s dealt with high balls really well throughout his career, so I don’t see any particular big issue playing on this surface… you always expect highs from him.”
For Djokovic’s part, the two-time Monte-Carlo champion is trying to bounce back after disappointing third round and fourth round exits in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively. The top seed can tie Nadal’s record of 33 ATP Masters 1000 titles if he emerges victorious in the Principality.
“This is sport, it happens. Certainly I was disappointed because I thought I was playing better and better and I thought I could go far. But at the same time it is what it is and as I said I’ll try to look on the positive side,” Djokovic said. “I’ve had great form the past 12 months, great form. And other than those two tournaments, all the others I’ve played were at least the semi-finals or finals, most of the tournaments I played. That can serve only as an incentive so to say, or a confidence boost, prior to clay season.”
In a way, the change of surface is well-timed for Djokovic after his recent defeats. While it historically has not been his best surface, the 31-year-old has won more than 79 per cent (199-52) of his tour-level clay-court matches, according to his FedEx ATP Win/Loss Record. That ranks second among active players, trailing only Nadal (92%).
“Obviously clay is a completely different surface. It’s very demanding physically, tactically, you have to be more patient, resilient, more enduring,” Djokovic said. “You have to be able to construct the point in various ways. It is a slow surface.
“[The] clay courts here in Monaco are probably the slowest of the big ones that we have on the Tour. My game and everybody’s game will be tested big-time, but that’s why we’re here.”
Djokovic owns a 32-10 record in Monte-Carlo, so it's not been his very best tournament over the years. But the Serbian resides in the Principality, so playing the first clay-court Masters 1000 tournament at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, where he trains when home, is almost like a home-court advantage.
“It’s great to play at home. I live here. I’ve used it as a base for the past almost 15 years,” Djokovic said. “The transformation of this club is quite amazing compared to the other times of the year when you don’t have a tournament it’s really calm and there’s not many people. Right now it’s just a different world. But I like it, I embrace it, and this is definitely one of if not my favourite tournament to play and I can’t wait to step on the court.”