Novak Djokovic rolled the dice ahead of the French Open – and he has hit the jackpot

Novak Djokovic rolled the dice ahead of the French Open – and he has hit the jackpot

Novak Djokovic is convinced he can still be a champion when it matters most in 2024 – and his confidence appears to be justified.

The world No 1 will celebrate his 37th birthday later this month and logic suggests that is not an age for a player to continue his domination in any major sport.

Roger Federer won his last major title when he was 36, with Ken Rosewall’s win the 1972 Australian Open the only time a player has won one of the game’s biggest tournaments after his 37th birthday.

Rosewall was 37 years, one month and 24 days old when he claimed his final Grand Slam title, so Djokovic will become the old Grand Slam champion of all-time if he wins the US Open later this year.

That battle against the history books does not appear to be affecting Djokovic’s ambition, as he highlighted in a recent interview with CNN.

“It hasn’t been the start that I’ve had for most of my career,” said Djokovic at the Laureus Awards in Madrid.

“I’ve been really blessed and fortunate to kickstart most of the seasons in my last 20 years of career with a win in Australia and that has been very nice to me. And obviously when you kickstart the year with a Grand Slam win you get the wind in your sails and it sets the tone for the rest of the season.”

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“This year it’s a bit different, but that’s okay, that’s fine. There’s still flare inside, I still want to do more in this sport, I still enjoy the thrill of the competition and see how far I can go.

“We’re just in the fourth month of the season, (the) tennis season is very long, still have three Slams, Olympic Games, many other tournaments. So going to get ready and try to win more.”

When asked whether he was confident of winning more Grand Slam titles, Djokovic appeared to be calm about his preparations for the French Open after he opted to pull out of this week’s tournament in Madrid.

“You take nothing but the win, that’s the mentality and you kind of visualise yourself achieving that already,” he added. “The key point of the year for me is the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics. That is what I’m focused on.”

Heading into May, Djokovic has played just 12 matches at regular tour events in 2024 and he has won nine of those.

Yet it is the defeats that have left the biggest questions marks over whether the most successful player of them all is still a favourite to win the biggest prizes in the sport.

There has long been a theory that Djokovic was virtually unbeatable in best-of-five set matches on almost any surface, but that belief has drained away in the last few months.

Defeats against Alex De Minaur, Luca Nardi and Casper Ruud in recent months, as well as the emergence of Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz as players who can beat him, has given everyone in the locker room hope that Djokovic is finally losing his powers of invincibility.

Managing his schedule and limiting his time on court is crucial to extending Djokovic’s career, but the moment a great champion loses his aura and his rivals smell weakness, they lose a few percentage points that made them great.

The biggest test for Djokovic will not come at the Rome Masters where he has confirmed he will play, but it will arrive at the French Open, where he expects to defend his title.

Those who doubted Djokovic’s confidence heading to Roland Garros based their pessimism on the events of the last six months, yet the developments at the Madrid Open tournament in recent days may be more significant than anything we have seen so far in 2024.

Alcaraz’s ongoing forearm issues leave his French Open hopes in peril, with the severity of the injury confirmed by his decision to pull out of the Rome Masters.

The previously unstoppable Sinner is also a big doubt for Rome as he nurses a high problem that may not be entirely healed by the time he gets to the French Open later this month.

To top it all off, Daniil Medvedev now has a big injury cloud hanging over him after he pulled out of his Madrid Open quarter-final against Jiri Lehecka with an upper leg problem.

That means the three players closest to Djokovic in the ATP Rankings are all struggling to be fit for the French Open, with the Serbian looking in on the carnage in Madrid with a feeling that the tennis tide has suddenly turned in his favour once again.

All great sporting champions are forced to accept a fall from great at some stage of their story, but Djokovic is convinced his time has not yet come.

With all of his rivals now struggling to play at full capacity at the French Open, Djokovic looks primed to rise to the top when it matters most again.

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