I don’t usually make many predictions because tennis is too unpredictable and I am a bit superstitious but this prediction is not that Djokovic will win the French Open this year. Just that he will win it again at some point.
With the Australian Open hype having settled down a bit and Fedfans getting their fairytale ending it is time to get back to reality and look ahead to the future. Currently, things have quieted down a bit in tennis with none of the big four back in action since Melbourne.
Since the first major of the year, Dimitrov has continued his good form with a title in Sofia while Alex Zverev continued to show why he is the most promising young talent on tour right now with his second title in Montpellier.
- Why I Like Djokovic’s Chances in Paris Again This Year
I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I was a Federer fan I could never see where his 18th slam title would come from but since I became a Djokovic fan I felt it was almost inevitable that he would win another slam.
The only reason that he wasn’t winning #18 was because of how well Djokovic was playing. I knew Federer was still playing at an incredibly high level and that all the talk of decline from his fans was just sour grapes that he kept losing to Djokovic.
Of course, since Federer won the Australian Open his fans have no problem admitting that he is still playing brilliantly, that he is the GOAT, etc. After all, he defeated his eternal nemesis Nadal in the final. And that after being a break down in the fifth set.
Although I felt during 2015 and 2016 that Federer was bound to win another slam, I thought his chances took a serious hit when he pulled out of the 2016 season after Wimbledon. I thought that might have been the final nail in the coffin for his chances.
But then he gets thrown a lifeline in Australia with the speeding up of the courts and miraculously wins #18 after a 6-month break at the age of 35. You could attribute it to luck but that would show ignorance or bias.
Federer has knocked long and hard at the door for an 18th slam title and he never stopped believing. Not even after having to take a 6-month break from the sport. The slowing down of conditions on tour in the last few years didn’t suit Federer but he kept believing and trying.
So you just gotta tip your hat and congratulate him. Since Djokovic won the personal slam I was expecting some kind of response from Federer and although I didn’t expect it to happen at the Australian Open I think it is good for tennis.
Djokovic was already on his way back after his slump with his performances in London and Doha and the fact that Federer won #18 at his best slam will motivate Djokovic a lot I think. What happened in Melbourne was against the run of play.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. Djokovic was supposed to win the title and return to dominance of the tennis world. But then the organizers decided to change the court speed which threw a spanner in the works.
Since Melbourne Djokovic has opted not to play in Dubai which means his first tournament back is only in March in Indian Wells. I think that is probably a good decision. He needs to save himself and focus on winning majors now.
Historically, Indian Wells and Miami has been some of his best hunting grounds where he has won 5 and 6 titles respectively. That is a good place to come back and start gaining some winning momentum for a very important clay court season.
- What Would a Second French Open Title Mean For Djokovic?
With Federer winning the Australian Open the hype was high as usual and many people have proclaimed him the undisputed GOAT. No doubt winning his 18th slam at 35 is highly impressive but it’s not as simple as that.
Federer still trails his two biggest rivals in the head-to-head and the win against Nadal didn’t do much to offset his 12-23 head-to-head with Nadal or his 3-9 head-to-head in slams and 1-3 head-to-head in Melbourne with Nadal.
Federer has also fallen behind 22-23 with Djokovic in recent times and 6-9 in slams including 1-3 in slam finals. No doubt Federer has a tremendous game and resume but it is not perfect. His backhand and mental strength are less than perfect and so is his tennis on slow courts.
Compared to other surfaces his results on clay have been relatively poor. He won five or more titles at all the slams except for the French Open where he won only one title. And that was when he didn’t have to face Nadal.
This is where Djokovic has a golden opportunity to carve out an even more unique legacy for himself. It is already very unique in that he won the personal slam, the most Masters titles, won the highest percentage of Masters titles, have a winning record against all of the big four members and had the most dominant season in history in 2015.
If he wins the double career slam he would become the first player in history to do so on three different surfaces. Djokovic already has a more complete game and a higher peak level than Federer.
If he wins a double career slam it would just emphasize that fact. The amateur view is that grand slam titles are the only measure of tennis greatness. As an expert, I can tell you that is simply not true.
Balance in a tennis resume is more important than impressive numbers. Federer has some impressive numbers but he also has some serious flaws in his resume. I’m not saying Djokovic will surpass Federer, but I believe he has the potential to do so.
But he does need to win more slams and it would help an awful lot if he starts by winning the double career slam at the French Open this year. Faster surfaces may be making a comeback on tour but clay will always remain a slow surface.
So I feel like Djokovic needs to take advantage of that. Not that Djokovic has anything to prove on fast surfaces. He’s won multiple Wimbledon and US Open titles and he isn’t vulnerable on any surface the way Nadal is on fast courts or Federer on slow courts.
He is the most complete of the big four but I feel like he should prove that with another French Open title. He is too good on clay to have won only one French Open.
- Who Is the French Open Favorite?
The Australian Open not only saw the return of Federer but also the return of Nadal. Nadal missed out big time because he would have won the double career slam and would have been very close to if not ahead of Federer in the GOAT debate.
But he will still take a lot of positives from Australia and is already called the favorite by many to win a 10th French Open this year. I don’t mind him being called the favorite but that doesn’t mean he is the favorite.
Nadal hasn’t won a set against Djokovic in their last seven meetings, including the 2015 French Open quarterfinal where Djokovic won 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. If Djokovic does well in Indian Wells and Miami and goes on a hot run during the clay court season he is going to be hard to stop in Paris this year.
After the Australian Open failure, I expect Djokovic to be highly motivated and the courts only slow down from here on which favors him. There will be plenty of obstacles along the way like the newly inspired Federer and Nadal, Murray, Wawrinka, and the younger players like Dimitrov, Raonic, Nishikori, Zverev, and Thiem.
And let’s not forget that Del Potro makes his return in Delray Beach. There is an interesting time ahead now and I don’t know who the French Open favorite is but I do know that Djokovic will be highly motivated which will make him awfully hard to stop.
But even if he doesn’t win it this year I think he will win a second French Open title at some point which would be another massive and unique achievement that could propel him ahead of Federer in the GOAT debate.
Ps. Come to think of it, I am happy Federer won in Melbourne and not Nadal even though I said I hope for the opposite before the final. Nadal winning the double career slam would have been a bit tragic given his one-dimensional game. Failing to do so gave Djokovic a very unique opportunity.