King of Clay

Why Novak Djokovic Will Win Roland Garros

By Jane Voigt, owner of

May 2, 2013 — Novak Djokovic is on a mission this spring: to win Roland Garros. His victory is not assured, however it is highly likely. Here’s why.

He can overcome any obstacle, whether physical or mental, on any tennis court surface. In Paris, we see red. Red clay. Second, Djokovic’s game is pitch perfect for the optimal and desirable opponent — Rafael Nadal, The King of Clay.

In mid-April, Djokovic took a giant leap forward in his pursuit of his missing link for a career Grand Slam. He defeated Nadal at The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.

The number-one Djokovic is only the second man to defeat the Spaniard since 2003. Had Nadal won, history would have written of his unprecedented nine Masters accumulated at the beautifully situated country club.

The week prior to this, Djokovic clinched the tie for Serbia in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. And that’s where this prediction of French dominance begins.

During his match against Sam Querrery of the U. S., Djokovic took a nasty fall. The replay of his accident certainly convinced people of its intensity. Novak screamed and grabbed at his ankle. Fans went silent. The person Serbia counted on most looked doomed.

But Djokovic did not retire. He revived himself. The screams, ankle clutching, and limp to the sideline were merely reactions. He actually put aside his pain after a consultation with a medical team and a couple tablets of Ibuprofen. The need for his tennis skills was palpable, at least perhaps in his mind. He had to rise up and save his country’s and his own pride.

He threw himself into high gear and defeated Querrey by winning 6-1 6-0 in the last two sets. Some were incredulous. Was he faking that ankle sprain? Had the Djokovic of his pained past risen? No. All you had to do was review the video of the fall. That was the real deal.

Credible tennis journalists espoused the virtue of Nole’s grand feat.

Steve Tignor of Tennis Magazine wrote, “’And what else could anyone think on Sunday afternoon, as they watched him hobble his way through an ankle injury, and Sam Querrey, in four sets to clinch Serbia’s quarterfinal tie over the United States. This was one of Djokovic’s most impressive performances of 2013, and an exercise in resilience for team’s sake.'”

Tignor went on to say that Novak demonstrated ‘efficiency and focus’ while his movement was compromised, adding, “‘That’s what playing for country and teammates can do for you.'”

Twitter sang Djokovic praises, as if he was inspired by, perhaps, a spiritual essence deep within or at least a highly selective intuitive nature of how to handle baffling situations. Perhaps Djokovic’s elimination of wheat gluten from his diet, plus a few go rounds inside the high-elevation recovery egg vessel had created a guidance system that gave him that pinch of push no one else on tour possessed.

Impossible to prove. But millions of people witnessed that match.

He, too, was incredulous when speaking with reporters. He said he really didn’t know how it all happened, that he ‘took some Advil and they kicked in.’ Yet his performance went well beyond that simple explanation; and he knew it.

Ten days later, on the Monday, May 10, the first day of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters tournament Djokovic finally announced he would play. He was entered, but people speculated he might withdraw because of his ankle. His team announced it wasn’t the best, but good enough. Monaco had become Novak’s adopted home town, like for so many other tennis players, and he wanted to play a home tournament.

The news was a mixture of speculation about Rafael Nadal’s record of having won eight consecutive titles and how he would try ‘my very best’ for the ninth plus Djokovic’s, or any number of other players, chances of knocking Rafa off his Monaco thrown.

Djokovic started the week slowly. Losing first sets, but advancing in three, until the semifinals where he took out Jarko Niemnen in straight sets.

The Serbian was primed as Nadal sailed through his half.

Rain delayed the final but did not discourage French fans and dignitaries. The sun cast its brilliance on Centre Court and tennis balls began to fly.

The first set from Djokovic was nothing less than perfect. He showed no signs of ankle strain. His concentration, shot selection, timing on the ball, movement and serve set a high bar. The stadium was alive. And Nadal looked intent on reversing course.

He didn’t. Djokovic wrested his first Masters from his adopted home. If he wins Cincinnati this summer, he will have won all nine Masters 1000 titles. No one else can say that.

During the awards presentation, Nadal thanked Novak for winning his favorite tournament and Novak thanked Nadal for letting him win it once. Their passion for victory and their sportsmanship superseded any impulse to disrespect either champion.

Djokovic had started the week as ‘likely’ and finished on top. His ankle improved throughout the week, and his confidence along with it. To have come through against Nadal proved a consistency with resilience.

He was physically impaired, yet capable of surpassing that which would have stopped many. Djokovic’s ankle, though, can’t be compared to Nadal’s left knee. This chronic problem took him away from the game for 7 months. In this final, Nadal’s weakness was not a result of knee pain either.

The rain at the start of the match dampened the court. As a result, the ball did not bounce as high as it would have had the clay been drier. Therefore Nadal’s primary offense — his top spin — was compromised. Novak walloped the ball within a comfortable range strike zone. There were too many unforced errors, too, from Nadal. These were partially due to Djokovic’s fine ball placement and Nadal’s technique, especially his under-spin groundstrokes.

To predict Novak Djokovic will win the French Open based on two tournament performances could be viewed as a thin argument, especially considering that Nadal has lost one match out of 53 in Paris. Yet Djokovic has been gunning for this title since 2006, saying along the way that Nadal is beatable.

In 2011, his chances were the greatest. He had a brilliant start to the year, accumulating a record of 43-0 coming Roland Garros. But Roger Federer pulled a fast one on the Serbian, defeating him in an instant classic in the semifinals. Federer raised his finger to the sky in a gesture of triumph and poignant reminder that he is the number one man to beat.

Djokovic reached his first Paris final in 2012. He was number one in the world, too, as Nadal attempted his seventh title. Over two rain-soaked days and four sets, Djokovic came up short. He had won the Australian Open but could not surpass the passion and skills of a determined Nadal. Novak ended up losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon to Federer, and losing to Andy Murray in the U. S. Open final.

It’s a lot to assume they will meet in the 2013 final. Djokovic will come in as the number one seed, but the rest is up in the air. Andy Murray could be seeded #2 or Roger Federer could capture that honor, depending on results from Madrid and Rome. Nadal, though, will certainly not be seeded two. Therefore the draw will set the stage, as it always does. If Nadal falls on the opposite side from Djokovic, odds are in Nadal’s favor that he will persevere to the final Sunday.

Which man has more at stake? Which is prepared the best?

Djokovic has more at stake because Nadal already has 7 titles and because Djokovic is ready to suffer for pride and country and history. Plus, he has proven over and over — remember the match in Melbourne against Stanislaus Wawrinka — that he is in charge of the rabbit in the hat.

Nadal’s record in Paris is Djokovic’s biggest obstacle. He will also have to bury Nadal’s ability to up his game consistently, year after year, in a city that has not embraced his grunts, style of play, and his certainly un-French-like crass on-court mannerisms.

With all the assumptions cast about the draw and the perfectly imperfect extraneous elements of the game lurking … this is Novak Djokovic’s finest and most opportune chance to seal his place alongside the six other men with career Grand Slams. His pride beckons the association. And his pride could be that sine-qua-non that sparks this champion to that lofty place.

Jane Voigt lives, breathes and writes tennis. She has previously written for,, and the late, great Tennis Week publication. She now maintains her own website at, and has traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada to cover tournaments. Ask her to play tennis, and she’ll prefer singles to doubles.

Australian Open Men’s Preview 2007

Written by Jay Jarrahi

The first Grand Slam of the season is almost upon us; the draw has been made, and has thrown up the usual dissections of the 128 man field. Here is a look at what the draw has delivered and the possibilities over the next two weeks.

Easy pickings for Federer

The first quarter of any slam draw in the past few years has seen the same man waltz through each time – world number one, Roger Federer. Between 2004 and 2006, Federer has failed to negotiate his quarter only once (Roland Garros 2004), often ending up with the trophy or a semi-final place at worst. Few would be brave enough (or indeed foolish enough) to suggest he will not continue his efficiency in disposing of his quarters. His toughest test looks likely to come in the 4th round in the form of Novak Djokovic.

Other players and matches to keep an eye on; Can Juan Carlos Ferrero break the losing streak? The former King of Clay has lost six matches on the spin dating back to last season, and will be hoping to remind himself of what victory tastes like against Jan Hajek. Before Djokovic can think of a meeting with Federer, he will first have to get past double Olympic gold medallist, Nicolas Massu. Last year’s final could be this year’s quarter-final, if Marcos Baghdatis can get that far for a re-match with Federer. Three of the ATP’s current crop of young talents have been drawn in close proximity, Baghdatis, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet. However, 7th seed Tommy Robredo will be looking to uphold his ranking and make the quarter-finals at the expense of these youngsters.

The quarter of aces

A quarter containing Ivan Ljubicic, Mario Ancic, Joachim Johansson, Marat Safin and Andy Roddick can be described as nothing else. Despite the excellent serving likely to be on show from these players, only one at best will be making it out of this quarter in what would be a likely showdown with Roger Federer. Undoubtedly, the most anticipated match up of the first week is a possible 3rd round encounter between Safin and Roddick.

Mario Ancic and Joachim Johansson are set for a 2nd round meeting, meaning that at least two of these four big servers will be gone by the start of the 4th round. Ivan Ljubicic will like his chances of at least equalling his Melbourne performance from 2006, where he reached the quarter-finals. Before last year’s Australian Open, Ljubicic had never been beyond the 3rd round of any Grand Slam in 25 attempts. He backed up his Australian Open effort, by making the last four at the French Open, but has since reverted back to type with 3rd and 1st round exits at Wimbledon and the US Open respectively.

Who wants it?

The highest seeds in the third quarter are Nikolay Davydenko (3) and David Nalbandian (8), not only do they share the same quarter but they also share doubts over their fitness after early season injuries. At the time of writing both players are expected to start the tournament, but whether that remains the case is to be seen, or how long their injuries will hold up if indeed they do begin the tournament at all. There is never a good time to be injured, and both players will be cursing their luck, as each of them will consider they have strong possibilities to come through this quarter.

Brotherly love may be in order in the 2nd round if the Rochus (Olivier & Christophe) brothers can win their 1st round encounters and meet in the following round. Both face tough challenges in the form of Chris Guccione (for Olivier) and Sebastian Grosjean (for Christophe).

Looking to take advantage of the doubts surrounding Davydenko and Nalbandian, will be Tomas Berdych and Tommy Haas. It is approaching the time where tennis fans want to see if Berdych can realise some of his potential in Slams, or whether he will prove to be more hype than substance. The Czech has not yet been past the 4th round of a Slam in 13 attempts, and has an especially poor record to date in Melbourne (2 wins in 3 years). Tommy Haas has been to two Australian Open semi-finals in his career and will be hoping he can take advantage of a draw that sees him avoid Roger Federer (in early 2006 Haas saw Federer block his path in a number of tournaments).

Xavier Malisse versus Arnaud Clement is the pick of the 1st round matches from this quarter.

Who wants it II?

Number two seed, Rafael Nadal, cannot be considered a hot favourite to come through the bottom quarter given his form since Wimbledon 2006. The Spaniard began the season in Chennai, but was disposed of by Malisse, and then had to withdraw in the first set of his tournament in Sydney against Guccione. The injury is not considered serious enough to put his participation in doubt, but nonetheless it is a possible factor counting against him going deep.

In the match of the 1st round, James Blake faces Carlos Moya (both players will be meeting later today in the final in Sydney). The winner of the clash in Sydney will not only pick up a title, but also a huge psychological boost going into the battle in Melbourne. The pressure is on Blake to start delivering in Slams, as of yet, he has failed to reach the quarter-finals of a Slam outside of the USA.

Lleyton Hewitt comes into the 2007 tournament with a new coach, Scott Draper, after Roger Rasheed cut his ties with the former world number one. Hewitt will be encouraged to have avoided a number of players with the potential to blow him off court, and this represents an opportunity for him to build on the quarter-finals he made in the final two Slams of 2006. His first big challenge could come in the form of Fernando Gonzalez in the 3rd round. The Chilean has the firepower to shoot Hewitt down, and it could be another explosive 3rd round match to go with Safin-Roddick.

Another player who will be hoping to go deep into the second week is Andy Murray. A possible 4th round match with Nadal awaits him should both players reach that stage.