Djokovic admits ‘long shot’ to beat Nadal in Paris
May 17 2021 11:18 PM
Spain’s Rafael Nadal (right) and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic greet each other after the former won the I
Spain’s Rafael Nadal (right) and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic greet each other after the former won the Italian Open final at Foro Italico in Rome, Italy, on Sunday. (AFP)

AFP/ Rome, Italy

Novak Djokovic admitted on Sunday that he’s “a long shot” to win Roland Garros where he would likely have to dethrone rival and 13-time Paris champion Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic may be world number one, but it’s Nadal who is the undisputed king of clay in the French capital where he has lost just twice in 102 matches since 2005.
On Sunday, Djokovic again felt the full, raw power of Nadal on clay as the Spaniard clinched a 10th Italian Open title with a 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 win in the final.
In the pair’s 57th meeting, the victory also took Nadal level with his Serb rival on 36 Masters 1000 titles.
“Going into Paris brings me a good sensation,” insisted Djokovic despite a roller-coaster clay court swing which yielded a round-of-16 exit in Monte Carlo and a semi-final loss on home ground in Belgrade.
Nadal, by comparison, has two titles in Rome and Barcelona but sobering quarter-final losses in Monte Carlo and Madrid.
“I actually now started to feel like I actually want to feel on clay,” added Djokovic.
“So I think if I manage to play the way I played last night (against Lorenzo Sonego in a three-set semi-final) and today, I think I have a good chance to go all the way in Paris.
“Of course it’s a long shot.”
Djokovic has 18 Grand Slam titles to his name — two behind the record of 20 shared by Nadal and Roger Federer.
However, only one of those has been captured at Roland Garros, in 2016 when Nadal withdrew with a wrist injury after the second round.
Djokovic was swept aside by Nadal in the 2020 final.
Before that, he had lost three other finals in Paris, two also to Nadal and one against Stan Wawrinka.
However, Djokovic still has a place in the record books to target as he hopes to become the first man in over half a century, and just the third in history, to win all four majors more than once.
Also, he remains just one of two men to beat Nadal at the French Open, in the last-eight in 2015.
For Nadal, Roland Garros, which gets underway on May 30, means a chance for a 14th Paris title and record 21st Grand Slam crown.
Djokovic will play on home clay again in Belgrade the week before Roland Garros.
Nadal will head home to Mallorca to fine-tune his game.
“I think I have been improving this week, but I need to keep going with that improvement,” he said Sunday.
“When you improve and you’re able to do it every day for a longer time, then you feel more confident and more safe.”

‘Rafa and I are Next Gen,’ says Djokovic
Rome, Italy: World number one Novak Djokovic took a swipe at all the talk about the younger generation of tennis players, saying rival Rafael Nadal and himself were the ‘Next Gen’.
The pair clashed for the 57th time in the Italian Open final on Sunday with Nadal winning a 10th trophy on the Roman clay at the expense of the defending champion.
“The Next Gen young people? Me, Rafa (Nadal) and Roger (Federer) are reinventing the Next Gen. We are the Next Gen,” Djokovic replied after accepting the runners-up trophy.
Second seed Nadal won through 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in 2hr 49min to match Djokovic’s record of 36 Masters 1000 titles and lay down a key marker two weeks out from the defence of his Roland Garros crown.
Both Nadal, 34, and 33-year-old Djokovic had ousted the last two ‘Next Gen’ trophy winners in Rome this week — Italian Jannik Sinner, 19, and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22 respectively.
Spaniard Nadal, who shares the record of 20 majors with Federer, also saved two match points to defeat Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, 22, and gained revenge on his Madrid Masters slayer Alexander Zverev, 24.
“Rafa is one of the biggest rivals I’ve had in my career, every time it’s a struggle, today almost three hours,” said Djokovic, an 18-time Grand Slam title winner.
“I mean, I said it thousand times. I don’t know how many times people want me to repeat it,” the Serb later expanded in the post match press conference.
“Of course the Next Gen is there, is coming, whatever. But here we are still winning the biggest tournaments and Slams.
“I don’t know what to tell you other than that. I’m not focused on the Next Gen even though I know people, you know, it creates a story.
“People like to talk about it. Fine. The guys are there. They are already establishing themselves in the top 5, top 10 of the world. Nothing new. But we are still there.”
Djokovic leads Nadal in their overall head-to-head record 29-28, but has not beaten the Spaniard on clay since the 2016 Italian Open quarter-finals. (AFP)

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