PARIS (AFP) – Novak Djokovic will renew his love-hate relationship with Roland Garros in the knowledge that it is himself rather than seemingly unsettled 12-time champion Rafael Nadal who could pose the greatest threat to winning a second Paris title and 18th Grand Slam crown.
The only man to beat Djokovic in 2020 is Djokovic after the Serb’s hair-trigger temper prompted a sensational disqualification from the US Open.
The 33-year-old arrives in the French capital with a 31-1 record this year after his New York brain-fade was followed by a record 36th Masters title in Rome.
Djokovic’s 2016 triumph at Roland Garros allowed him to become only the third man after Don Budge and Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time.
Not even Nadal, the holder of 19 majors, or Roger Federer, with a record 20 Slams, can match that staggering achievement.
Federer will miss the French Open as he rehabs his injured knee while Nadal has played just three matches since February, a ring-rustiness evident in his quarter-final exit in Rome.
However, Djokovic refused to get carried away by his chances at Roland Garros ahead of today’s start in a wet and chilly Paris.
“It’s Nadal,” insisted the world number one when pushed on who is the favourite. “You just can’t put anybody in front of him.”
Djokovic is right to be cautious after experiencing numerous low points on the red clay of Paris.
In the 2012 final against Nadal, having won eight games in a row, he was up a break and pushing to level the match at two sets apiece when rain brought an overnight suspension.
Play resumed the following day but Djokovic’s momentum was lost and a double-fault on championship point completed his misery.
Twelve months later, Djokovic was poised for a semi-final win over Nadal with just a routine putaway required to help give him a 5-3 final set lead and a chance to serve for the match.
However, he chose a smash rather than a soothing touch. He tumbled into the net, losing the point and Nadal pounced to eventually take the tie after four hours and 37 minutes.
In 2018, he lost a quarter-final to world number 72 Marco Cecchinato while last year he was beaten in the semi-finals by Dominic Thiem.
Djokovic will start his tournament against Sweden’s Mikael Ymer, the world number 80.
Nadal eyes a 13th French Open.
Since his title-winning debut in 2005, the Spaniard has only lost twice at Roland Garros in 95 matches – to Robin Soderling in 2009 and Djokovic in 2015.
The 34-year-old may appear to be under-cooked after his last-eight exit in Rome to Diego Schwartzman.