Novak Djokovic is heading in the right direction. As the clay swing has progressed so has the Djoker’s game and confidence. Now, in the final tournament on the red dirt, Djokovic seems to be playing his best tennis since his return. He is into the 3rd round of Roland Garros without much trouble, and he has shown flashes of his old self.
Can he win this tournament? Of course he can
Putting anything past a man who has won 12 Grand Slams would be foolish. Would a win be surprising? Definitely. Here are the things that Novak will have to do to pull off a surprising victory at the French.
Play Without Fear
As we have said before: Novak’s problem now is mental – not physical. After his first-round exit at Indian Wells to Taro Daniel, Djokovic said he “felt like it was his first match ever on tour.” This is an astounding statement coming from a 12 time Grand Slam winner, former world #1, and easy Top 10 all-time player. This insight of Djokovic’s shattered confidence shows why his game now is not potent like it used to be.
Djokovic was known for playing his best tennis in the big moments. He is forever in Nadal and Federer’s nightmares as someone who has taken them out in tight matches, deep in majors. The Djoker played without fear of losing and was able to play with a clear mind and go for his shots, even when the pressure was imaginable. Being able to swing freely on both forehand and backhand allowed him to keep balls deep, rally opponents into submission, and come out on top in tight matches.
His mentality allowed him to play this way, and it is his damaged confidence that is keeping him from getting back to his old form.
But, that is starting to change.
Trust His Instinct
Novak Djokovic has an extremely high tennis IQ. That doesn’t get injured when your elbow does. What has happened is the Djoker now over thinks shots and will make mistakes because he is not trusting his instincts.
Now that he is starting to trust his shots more, we are seeing fewer party balls down the middle that opponents jump all over. We are seeing the repetitive deep rally balls that Djokovic has been synonymous with, for 10 years now. As he is finding his range, his creativity is blooming again. He will need to continue to trust his shot selection if he is going to out-duel tough opponents in the later stages of the French.
Don’t Force It
It is unquestionable that Djokovic will find himself up against the ropes in the coming matches. It will be important for him to trust his game, and not try to change his style to make quick comebacks.
As he has not won many tight matches lately, he might forget what it’s like to come from behind to win. He used to do this by hanging around, waiting for his opponent to tighten up, and then pouncing when the time is right. He would stay consistent, making opponents hit 3 or 4 winners to win a rally. The vast majority of players can’t do this over the course of a couple of games without getting rattled, let alone a 5 set match.
He has to play without fear of losing. Which means not forcing a comeback. But letting his experience and game bring it about!
It will come down to the big moment
Can Novak Djokovic win the French? Sure. Is it likely? No. But there are ways that he can beat any opponent he will face. If he does that 5 more times, he will have won his 2nd French Open. Cleary his biggest tests will come in a potential match with Thiem, Zverev, and finally Nadal.
He is not a top favourite, but it would be foolish to count Djokovic out. It will come down to the big moments, where Djokovic has proven in the past that he can play his best tennis.
For a cat like the Djoker, anything is possible, and we might just be in for a surprise.