Novak Djokovic: Rafa Plays His Best Clay Tennis In Paris And He’s Up There As A Favorite To Win
by Tom Gainey | May 22nd, 2015, 4:59 pm

On the day of his 28th birthday and on the eve of his most important event of his tennis season, Novak Djokovic was given some startling news: He would have to face 9-time champion Rafael Nadal in the French Open quarterfinals.

Djokovic, like Nadal did, took the draw in stride. And said he’ll also take it match-by-match, but much of the focus of his pre-tournament presser was on the looming match-up.

Djokovic, who has won his last 22 matches, needs only the French Open to complete the career Slam. After two runner-up finishes to Nadal, could this finally be the year?

He met the press today:

Q. Happy birthday.

Q. I don’t want to give you any spoilers. Have you seen your draw?

Q. Is it difficult to focus on your first round when everybody is talking about the fact that you might get Rafa in the quarters?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think that even few weeks ago when Rafa dropped from the top 4, I think people already started talking the eventual quarterfinals with one of the top guys. So it’s not a surprise. It’s been something that was building up already for few weeks, for some time. But again, it’s a draw. You can’t affect it. There is always a chance that that’s gonna happen. But again, that’s probably like more than a week away of the potential quarterfinal, so I still need to win four matches to get there as much, as he does.

Q. Based on your match with Rafa in Monte-Carlo and also what you have seen from him elsewhere on clay, where would you say his level is right now? Does it matter since he’s the nine-time champ? Does it make a difference that he struggled by his high standards on clay this year?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, he did struggle. He was not playing up to his standard this year comparing to, let’s say, last eight, nine years. Has always been a big title on clay coming into Roland Garros. It wasn’t the case this year, so it is probably a bit different approach for him. But regardless of that, I think he still is playing his best tennis on clay courts in Paris. He has lost only one match in his entire career here. I think that record speaks enough about his level of play. Maybe he doesn’t feel — I mean, he’s gonna answer better if he feels more or less confident coming into Roland Garros this year because of the results that he had, you know, in the last month and a half. But I still feel that he’s definitely right up there in top favorites to win.

Q. There is always pressure when you play him, but playing him in a quarterfinal compared to a final, would you rather play him earlier on in a tournament like a quarterfinal?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s hard to say, really. Honestly. I played him in semifinals and finals more than few times. Actually I think at the very beginning once in quarters, as well. Doesn’t really matter. I mean, I think we both are aiming to play our best, and as the tournament progresses, already by quarterfinals I think we already play at our high.

Q. Coming back to the only Grand Slam you haven’t won, is it really possible to have a different mental approach to kind of forget that, Okay, I never won this one, and delete like it was a usual tournament?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, there is always a little bit of extra motivation for me coming into Roland Garros. It is obviously very encouraging knowing that I have won all of the big events from last October, and playing some of my best tennis in the life, and coming into Roland Garros with that amount of confidence helps. Encourages me to step on the court and compete. I have had this particular situation before, and especially in the last two years where I was coming into Roland Garros and people speculating, is this the year or not? Thinking about how far I can go. Can I win the title or not. I was few times very close. Didn’t manage to do it, but that doesn’t discourage me to not keep on going. I’m here once again with a purpose, with a reason, and I will try to get myself in a position to win a trophy. But I can’t predict anything. I can’t guarantee I can go all the way. I just need to try to do what I do best, and that is taking one day at a time, having the proper positive mindset that doesn’t allow me to think too much in advance.

Q. I read your book, and I also took your two-week diet. Just wondering, do you know of a place here in Paris that serves gluten-free crepes?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I don’t know, but I know about the bakery that has gluten-free bread.

Q. How much has —
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: How did it affect you, this two-week diet?

Q. Well, I ate healthier. I ate less. I lost weight. But I don’t know that I felt much different.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: All right. Good. That’s enough.

Q. That’s enough? Losing weight is pretty good?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I don’t know what you were looking for, but I’m just curious to hear.

Q. I did the arm test too and I had the same thing happen with me.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: With what? With dairy products or chocolate?

Q. With a slice of bread.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: But did you hold something in your stomach when you did that?

Q. Bread.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Ah, bread. So you are gluten-intolerant as well?

Q. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: All right. I encourage you to keep on going.

Q. I don’t know if I’m going to go with the dairy. I think I will go gluten light, though. Just how important was it to you?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it changed my life back in 2010. But again, you mentioned the book. The book, the purpose of writing a book was sharing my personal experience and how it affected my life on and off the court. It wasn’t the way to preach to somebody or how they should live their life or change their nutrition or so forth. It was just sharing my own experience, and hopefully people that read it can find something useful for their own nutrition and health. Most of the comments that I have received from the people about the book were positive, and I’m glad. Yours I’m still trying to figure out if it’s positive or negative. (Smiling.)

Q. It was positive.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Thank you. But it did change my life. I mean, ever since 2010 I have been very much evolving in terms of food, in terms of finding out new ways to improve my health. I think generally today’s society, you know, people tend to speak about how sick we can get and all the different illnesses that can cause us to feel bad. But nobody talks about how healthy can we really be. So I think that’s kind of a mindset that I have. I really want to push the borders, evolve, and find out new things, get the knowledge and experience. It’s been quite a ride, I would say, in that field of life for me. It’s kind of like my hobby and passion. I like it. Maybe soon another book will come out, as well.

Q. You mentioned how well you’re playing coming in; what a good season you have had. You came in here on that winning streak in 2011. Are you a better tennis player now? If so, in what particular ways?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I just feel more complete as a player in terms of ability to handle the emotions on the court, to find a way to win the tough matches. Physically just matured. Just mentally knowing what to do, how to approach big tournaments, big matches, and how to keep that consistency going, not to have many ups and downs. Just 2011 was results-wise the best year of my career, no doubt about it. But this year I’m just able to, I’d say, handle things that are on the court and also off the court present in my life in a much better and more mature way. So I like the player that I am today more than the one that I was in 2011, even though I have had the best season of my career. But I feel like every season is different. As the time goes on, naturally you have a tendency to improve and evolve and you are a different person and you have different circumstances in your private life that affect your professional life and performance, as well.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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46 Comments for Novak Djokovic: Rafa Plays His Best Clay Tennis In Paris And He’s Up There As A Favorite To Win

Wog Boy Says:

Win or lose it is OK with this fan, but one thing is for sure, he is/was the player with the least of luck between top 4, and Lady Luck just keep avoiding No1e.

Either way he had a nice quite birthday celebration with the people closest to him, even Pierre showed us who he love the most, Happy “Brzday” Champ:

chris ford1 Says:

Dokovic is an interesting interview. Articulate and wide-ranging. As his peers say, he is one of the brightest people on tour and with that and his #1 status, still very friendly and not arrogant at all.
Like Rafa, he says what he thinks. And sometimes his interviews take unusual directions. He was interested in the draw, and Rafa and others he might face….but then he finds the reporter’s gluten free diet very interesting and starts interviewing him.

skeezer Says:

Totally agree with Nole. Rafa is the fav no doubt.
One of the sweetest victories one can have is beating lady luck ;)

jane Says:

both fed and novak have essentially said rafa’s the favourite. so do we agree with them or with the pundits/bettors?

Wog Boy Says:


It is true, but sometimes you just can’t escape feeling that it is a bit to often that kind of situation, beating Lady Luck. I am the one who doesn’t like Nole having easy draw because he usually underperform when he has one, but too go through Rafa and Andy, same applies for Rafa and Andy knowing type of tennis they all play, including Ferrer, and then play final, whoever is in the final (I see either Roger or The Samurai), is a bit too much. It is not one tough match and then final, it is two tough matches (plus before matches) and then final, whoever makes it so far, and Nole failed few times in the GS when he had to play tough QF & F, particulary at USO.

Of course Rafa is a favorite, who else can be, when it comes to FO, present form or winning streak means nothing.

Wog Boy Says:

^^^ “play tough QF & F, particulary at USO.” should say “tough QF & SF,..”

skeezer Says:

Me too. If fit that is. Nole has played some clutch 3 setters during the Clay season, more than any other of the top 4. Iron sharpens iron. I lime his draw, he’ll be fine.

Michael Says:

Novak seems geared up to the challenge to meet Rafa in the quarters. I do not think his victory would be complete here without beating Rafa onroute. It is one thing winning Rolland Garros without meeting Rafa and it is another beating him to win the trophy. The later gives you a great feeling as you can have a sense of satisfaction that you have got the better of the best on this surface. If Novak manages to beat Rafa here and falters before the finals, still he will treasure of being just the second person in the current generation to beat Rafa at this venue and that is a record by itself.

Michael Says:

^^ Just to add…

…..still he will treasure the outcome

Giles Says:

LMAO at joker and his delinquent fans tryi g to take the pressure off himself when, after the phenomenal season he is having and the lousy season Rafa has had so far, they are insisting Rafa is the favourite. These are obviously tactics to try and jinx Rafa, yes JINX. Hopefully it will backfire onto joker and he will be the jinxed one. Cheap ploys that only joker and his mob are capable of.
Vamos Rafa!

Daniel Says:


Sorry but I bet Djoko wull rather have a French Open title and never beat Nadla on Paris than beat Nadal on Paris and don’t have a RG title. As much as “being tbe second guy to beat Nadal in Paris” is a great tag, what matter is the trophy. Everybody knows it. even without beating Nadal here Djoko already is regarded as his main adversary / threat and the only guy who beat him 20 times. The other one who comes close is Federer at 10 and at the cost of losing 23 matches to get those 10 wins. This is already a testimony to how great Djoko is.

What he needs and wants the most right now is the Slams, complete his career Slam and win as much as he can in the spannof next 8 tourney before he turns 30 and things start to get harder. He knows he lost too many finals and now that he won hos last 2 Slams finals and 12-13 Masyers finals he knows what he can do. Hope he gets the trophy in 2 weeks.

jane Says:

giles, you’re seriously mistaken if you think anything anyone says here can affect the players or “take the pressure off” anyone.

besides which, if you read the posts, you’d see we’re agreeing with what federer and novak said about rafa being the favourite.

and indeed, a week ago on the poll thread you commended fed for saying that rafa is the favourite saying how much fed “respects” rafa and were angry with michael for calling rafa a darkhorse.

so which is it? is rafa a favourite for the title where he’s lost 1 match in ten years, or not?

jane Says:

of course daniel; fed didn’t go through rafa on his road to the RG title, but he still has it in his case, and I am sure he’s glad about that. I suspect Novak would be as well. on the flip side, rafa didn’t have to go through fed for his USO title either. his semifinal opponent was youz and novak took out fed.

jane Says:

^ i meant the us open title to complete the career slam, i.e., 2010

Daniel Says:

Yes Jane,

Also Djoko and Fed already beat each other in all Slams. Djoko only miss beatinhg Rafa at RG (Rafa misses beating Djoko in AO) and Djoko beating Murray in RG and Wimbledon. If Djoko indeed goes throguh his draw as plan, he will have his victory over Nadal and Murray in RG. The only Slam where he would not beat a fellow Big Foir would be Murray on Wimbledon. That could be something as well of by the end of his career henhas victories over all Big in all Slams.

Giles Says:

Jane. Yes I did commend fed for his comments. He genuinely believes his statement unlike the joker fans on here who are just mimicking Fed’s words but for different reasons. Would you come outright and say that joker is the favourite, which IMO, he definitely is? I guess you don’t want to have egg on your face if you say that your man is the fave and then he loses. You are trying to hedge your bets aren’t you? Make Rafa the fave and hey presto joker wins and you feign surprise at the result.

Giles Says:

PS. Let me repeat, joker is the favourite and not Rafa. But guess what? Favourites have been known to lose so I hope it works this time. Bookies have joker as an odds on favourite to win with Rafa at 4/1. I hope the bookies make a packet!

Zozza Says:

Novak deserves at least one French open
Nadal deserves 10
Best player on the day wins match
Simple as that
If Nadal plays his best
If Djokovic plays his best
Who will win
Easy answer
Nadal !!!
But Nadal isn’t playing his best
So hopefully it’s great match
Form might indicate Djokovic will win
But it’s Paris
Nadal’s home
Gonna be interesting

danica Says:

Giles, would it satisfy you if we say Nole and Rafa are co-favorites? Because honestly, I don’t see how that cannot be the case. Yes, Nole seems to be in great form and Rafa’s clay season was so far terrible by his standards but… Some of Rafa’s loses were unlucky and I believe he can fix some of the problems by the start of the tournament. Beating Rafa in two sets is one thing. Beating it in a best of five format is quite another. It’s huge mental undertaking.

So, yes, Nole is No.1 for a reason and has great chance to win his first RG. But Rafa is THE best ever at RG even when not in form. I am baffled as to how a lot of people dismiss Rafa’s chances and see Nole as the sure thing to win. This is sport and anything can happen.

danica Says:

Oh God, I should have said: “Beating HIM…” !!! My apologies.

Michael Says:

Daniel @12.45 pm,

True. Novak’s success rate in Grand slams is not as impressive as it is in the Master series titles. All that matter in the end will be the title and not how you attain it which would be best served by academic debates which are not going to any way boost your record books and going forgotten with the passage of time. Even Roger managed to win Rolland Garros only by the shocking upset of Rafa very early in the tournament. Did that any way undermine his achievement ? What I meant only was that beating Rafa on the way would make the victory more sweet. Rafa is Mr. Clay Court and a true legend on this surface. He has a ridiculous record at this venue and so beating him will give a sense of great satisfaction and boost your confidence sky high. At the moment, Novak is primed to beat Rafa especially due to the fact that the later is not in the best of form right now. I do not think there is anybody more deserving to win Rolland Garros than Novak having made so much semi/final appearances at this venue. He has lost about six times to Rafa here already and he is still trying to gain that elusive crown which has deserted him all along in his quest for excellence.

jane Says:

of course you make perfect sense danica, but don’t count on giles to understand. he hates novak. and anything related to him.

Giles Says:

I will accept people saying Rafa is the BEST EVER at Roland Garros but I will not accept pinning the “favourite” tag on him this year. Then again I don’t have to remind you of who is playing “flawless” tennis so far this year. He has it tattooed on his head!! Lol

danica Says:

I figured.

Viki Says:

First lets see if Nadal reach quaterfinal, he will reach only if he is feeling that he can beat Novak otherwise he will loose early as his usual pattern.

But if he decides to play quater final then be sure it will be a long and tight match not aka monte carlo.

madmax Says:


Rafa is the favourite at RG, all this dark horse stuff is rubbish.

He has brought so much for the last 9 years, 10 years, achieved so much, just because he has lost a few masters in the process, means nothing.

I think he is conserving all of his energy for RG.

After Rafa, I think comes Novak. Novak is excellent, a world beater. The best. He still has to win at RG, and that of course is on his agenda.

After Novak comes Murray. Murray has proved himself on clay, this year, more than any other year. Marriage has stabilised him and there is no reason why he cannot go deep.

After Murray, comes Federer. The dark horse, but I feel that 5 sets will now be too much for Roger. He will have Wimbledon in his sights and the thought of him going 5 sets on clay, will simply take it out of his legs.

It’s anyone’s guess after that, but on a good day, the likes of Kyrios, Dimitrov, Tsonga, Monfils (who can forget him?). I mean seriously. He could take out any of the top 4 with a slice and an aggressive, confident day – if it wasn’t for my heart, I would say that Monfils has a shot at the title, and I wouldnt be surprised if he is the one who takes out Roger.

How anyone can say that Rafa isn’t the favourite, is just lying in my view.

You watch. Just watch him come alive on the court. RG is to him, life itself. It gives him energy and a drive that I have never seen before.

He becomes a beast.

I am not side tracked at all by Rafa’s losses in Masters.

We are talking about a different beast now.

This is Roland Garros.

Giles Says:

madmax. Loved your post ( for a change, lol :))), hope you are right about Rafa. Let’s see.

jalep Says:

Well Giles, I loved madmax’s post too. madmax put hammer to head of nail emphatically! Thing is, I just smiled and said, “ajde” madmax. Zero lol.

Danica and jane right too.

Wog Boy thanks for Nole b-day celebration picture!

Giles Says:

jalep. Big difference in the tone of the joker fans labelling Rafa as the favourite and that of madmax. It is a subtle difference but one which I can detect. I prefer Madmax’s version. You , Jane and danica will probably not understand what I am driving at but nonetheless there it is.

jalep Says:

Okay. Fair enough Giles.

Not sure exactly what you mean because I too expect Rafa to come alive and morph into a beast at the GS where he has won 9 titles. I can’t see Rafa really as anything but the favorite at Rolly.G. I do understand that Nole and Andy, who has also morphed into a fine clay court threat are Rafa’s closest threats.

But “horses for courses” as the saying goes, and we are now on Rafa’s turf.

That’s how I feel and see it. Probably because madmax is a Federer fan, you trust the sincerity of madmax’s post. Nonetheless that’s my sincere feeling too. Respect to Rafa.

But I will be hoping and cheering for Nole. Posters taking for granted the facts about Rafa on his court winning and expecting Nole to win the quarterfinal without Rafa unleashing his best and upping his level, as he can here are doing some wishful thinking.

Not attempting to curry favor with you personally at all. Lol, that won’t happen :D

jane Says:

agree with you jalep: it’s rafa’s turf. and i have been nothing but realistic in saying rafa is the favourite. he just is. and madmax is bang on too. i simply agreed with fed and novak to begin with, but something in the “tone” i guess makes giles think we are out to “JINX” (jinx!) rafa. perhaps some people believe in hexes and jinxes, but personally i don’t.

on another note, perhaps this turf transforms gulbis too. i see he won! shocking. :)

jane Says:

and further to rafa being the favourite at roland garros, he has been playing good but not great but he is not in such bad form. he has show wonderful sparks on clay this season and has had great matches mixed with less-so ones. he also just happened to meet andy and stan in very strong form.

but none of that matters because he is not the same in Paris compared to other places. we’ve been through it multiple times, including last year.

philip chatrier is rafa’s pantheon. people do not beat him there. 66 times rafa won out of 67. i know people are tired of hearing that repeated but it is simply unheard of! until I see it with my own eyes that he has lost his form in paris, he will be the fav at roland garros as long as he plays. at the very least, one of them.

if rafa does lose i will not feel that i have “egg on my face” for saying he is the favourite, either. he’s earned that title at roland garros more than any player at any other slam ever. no one has such a record at the slams.

and i don’t put much stock in bookies or pundits because they are very much “what have you done for me lately?” types. they don’t consider the bigger picture.

jalep Says:

Chapeau, jane. Agree with everything you’ve written on the subject.

Giles Says:

And I don’t “put much stock” in joker fans saying Rafa is the favourite.

danica Says:

One just needs to look at last year. Rafa was basically titleless coming to FO. I am not counting Madrid where he was soundly beaten by Nishi and where he won by default when Nishi got hurt. And yet, he won RG. So, taking for granted that Nole will beat him this time is taking it too far. He has a chance, nothing more. He’ll need to go out there, play lights out and earn his place in semis.

jane Says:

precisely danica. novak is 0-6 versus rafa at roland garros and rafa is 66/67 in matches at roland garros, yet people call novak the favourite? it just doesn’t compute.

mat4 Says:

@jane, danica:

Babolat seems to have slowed down the balls even more. I watched some highlights, and you just can’t hit through the opponent.

Then, Roland Garros site is the WORST EVER!! Why do they assume that we all use tablets or something like that? I use a working horse, not a toy.

Finally: it is a quite usual trick to downplay your favs chances to win, just to rejoice and brag more after the tournament. Then, if he loses, one can always repeat “that he wasn’t the favourite”.

So, here, of course the first favourite is Rafa, especially when you see that Stan can’t hit a winner, and that Falla runs every ball. But there is not point to try to explain that to rafans: they won’t admit it. Also: I’ve seen comments that Novak draw is a walk in the park until the QF. But Rafa’s is not much more difficult. No powerplayer, nobody in form recently, although Almagro seems to be coming back.

Honestly, perhaps it is better this way. Let’s hope that Novak will play well.

Wog Boy Says:


Agree, I saw few matches last night, including Rogers, and ball just doesn’t fly, it is energy consuming, you have to work much harde to win every point, Roger wasn’t particulary happy and he had to work hard for every point against a player that is not great mover and doesn’t have one single weapon besides not having one single title against his name. It is going to be very physical FO.

jane Says:

thanks for your thoughts, as always, mat4. do you or wog boy know why fed described the balls as “dead”? does that mean they don’t bounce high too?

Wog Boy Says:

jane, from what I saw they bounce high, high enough, but then appears like they suddenly slow down on the way up and gives opponent more then enough time to hit the ball, like that monstrous FH with a big cut;)

Wog Boy Says:

I just saw Nole’s scheduling, he playes Tuesday late, what’s next, one rain delay and he will be forced to play match after match in two days until the end since he doesn’t have any spare day in between! Not much respect if any for the world #1 by Tournament Director. Nice draw, nice scheduling, everything is done for No1e to make it eaisier for him to win his first FO..
Sorry Nole fans for beeing defeatist, which I am usually not, but after seeing all of this I don’t have much expectations this year, I’ll talk to you after FO.

jane Says:

thanks wog boy. i wonder how the weather will affect the balls too. that’s too bad novak plays late; fingers crossed that he can do his best! will talk to you soon, hopefully.

mat4 Says:


Yes, I too feel that everything possible has been done for him to lose. I don’t have illusions about the honesty and integrity of the organisers. It’s not Wimbledon, where, at least, they still understand “fair play”.

Babolet has modified the balls every year, or almost, since 2011. They were very lively and fast that year, but the players complained about their quality. The quality was not enhanced, but they made them slower, and this year, even slower than they were. When you hit something that should be a FH winner, the ball lands before the service line. Both Fed and Wawa had to work hard to make winners. Matthieu couldn’t hit through Nishikori when Kei defended 3 m behind the baseline. On the other side, a slow player like Wawrinka was always on the ball, taking time to hit it well. No hurry. Of course, we know who gets an advantage with such balls: players that play defensive tennis.

mat4 Says:

BTW, that’s how a Reuters’ journalist sees the draw:

“Federer, conveniently in the opposite side of the draw to nine-times champions Rafa Nadal, world number one Novak Djokovic and third seed Andy Murray […]”

“conveniently” perhaps doesn’t mean what it means in French, though.

Giles Says:

So, joker is scheduled to play the 3rd match tomorrow and the joker fans, one in particular, the one from down under is complaining that he has a LATE match, lol lol

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