Sport Tennis The gaping hole in Novak Djokovic’s tennis career

The gaping hole in Novak Djokovic’s tennis career

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Novak Djokovic had just won his sixth Australian Open, and 11th grand slam overall, with a clinical straight-sets triumph over Andy Murray.

But deep inside Melbourne Park the champ told reporters his focus had already shifted.

“The French Open. It’s the one I never won. I’ll try to put myself in a position to get that trophy,” the 28-year-old said when asked what was next on his radar.

It was a comment that typified Djokovic’s relentless pursuit of excellence.

The Serbian’s ascension to the top of the tennis rankings – a position he has held since July 2014 – is largely thanks to that drive.

In addition to those 11 grand slams – only four men (Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal and Roy Emerson) have won more – he has claimed 64 singles titles, 29 of which have come at ATP 1000 events, the top tier of tennis tournaments.

Melbourne has been his happy hunting ground, achieving the ultimate glory in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

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A familiar feeling: Djokovic lifts the Australian Open trophy. Photo: Getty

London, where he has won Wimbledon three times, and New York, where has claimed the US Open twice, have also been good to Djokovic.

It only leaves Paris on his ‘to-win’ list.

The French Open has frustratingly eluded Djokovic, despite a host of good performances. In 2012 and 2014 he ran into Nadal, almost impossible to beat on the Paris clay, in the final.

Nadal also sent him packing in the 2013 semi-finals.

Things were different last year, a period in which Nadal’s body finally started to give way after year upon year of gruelling tennis.

Djokovic knocked Nadal out in the last eight and then accounted for Andy Murray, over two days, in a semi-final, only to blow his best chance yet at Roland Garros in the decider.

Stanislas Wawrinka, a man capable of beating anyone on the tour on his day, was too good, defeating Djokovic in four sets.

“Each year when I go back, I feel like I’m a step closer,” Djokovic said afterwards.

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Djokovic’s frustration is obvious after the 2015 French Open final. Photo: Getty

Roger Federer, an old sparring partner of Djokovic’s, albeit one he beats regularly now, has withdrawn, opening things up slightly for the 2016 edition of the French Open.

But Nadal, Wawrinka and Murray – who beat Djokovic in straight sets in the Rome final last week – will all be there.

Why Novak ‘needs’ to win in Paris

Djokovic, who was won five titles this year, “definitely needs” to break his French Open hoodoo if he is to be in the conversation for the best player of all time, says commentator and United States Davis Cup captain Jim Courier.

“He definitely needs it – there’s no doubt,” he told the New York Times.

“Novak would not be considered the greatest player of all time, which he has a chance to be, if he’s not able to win it.”

Djokovic has repeatedly stated his desire to win the French Open and complete a career grand slam, in 2014 admitting it was “one of the biggest goals” in his life.

Courier thinks such statements have only served to heap the pressure on Djokovic.

“I think he has put too much out there in public the last few years as to what it means to him,” he added.

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Djokovic and coach Boris Becker have struck up a great relationship. Photo: Getty

“I think one of Nadal’s great strengths is he’s always played every point so individually, let alone tournaments.

“Obviously the majors mean more to everybody, but Nadal is able to compartmentalise so well historically. So is Federer.

“And I think Novak is a little more of an emotion-based guy. He thrives on that energy, and I think as a result of that, he’s been honest to his credit … but maybe to a fault.”

Djokovic’s coach, the legendary Boris Becker, said his player goes to the French capital in high spirits.

“I think he goes with good feelings to Paris,” he said.

“The loss to Stan gave him more than he anticipated and I think that that carries in the soul a long time.”

The draw

Djokovic should have little troubling in his opening two matches before a potential third-round clash with 31st-seeded Argentine Federico Delbonis.

The Serb could face Nadal in what is sure to be a mouth-watering semi-final.

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