Djokovic eyes French Open final against Nadal as clay begins

MONACO (AP) — As Novak Djokovic begins his preparations for a fourth straight Grand Slam title, he likes to imagine beating Rafael Nadal in the French Open final.

“That would be the match of the season, yes,” Djokovic said last Sunday at the Monte Carlo Masters. Djokovic and his longtime rival Nadal are starting their clay-court seasons this week at Monte Carlo, their first tuneup on clay ahead of the May 26-June 9 French Open in Paris, and which could see them meet for a 54th time if they reach the final.

Toppling Nadal at Roland Garros, where the Spaniard is the defending champion and a record 11-time winner, is what Djokovic really wants.

It’s something Djokovic considers “one of the ultimate challenges of the sport” — much like facing Roger Federer during his grass-court prime at Wimbledon. They are the three most successful players in Grand Slam history: Federer has won a record 20 majors, Nadal 17 and Djokovic is catching them up with 15.

The top-ranked Djokovic has won the past three majors in straight sets, including a stunning rout of Nadal in the Australian Open final this year. He also has a 28-25 winning record against Nadal — a considerable achievement in itself.

Yet despite all the positive points stacked up, he considers Nadal a different and much more dangerous opponent at this stage of the season.

“I think Rafa is always a very clear favourite on any clay court in the world, and it doesn’t change,” Djokovic said.

“He’s still there. I mean (it) obviously depends how he’s feeling physically. I have seen him (training) here, he’s been here a few days. Seems like he’s fine.”