Novak Djokovic will be sharp and back to his best when he defends his French Open title next month, according to Greg Rusedski and Daniela Hantuchova.
Djokovic has endured a difficult few months since the saga surrounding his vaccination status led to his absence at the Australian Open in a story which captivated the sporting world. The 20-time Grand Slam champion has only played two events this year, in Dubai and Monte-Carlo, as a result of his refusal to get vaccinated.
The 34-year-old was denied entry to the US for the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami. Djokovic played in just his second tournament of the year at the Monte-Carlo Masters, but suffered a shock defeat to eventual finalist Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his opening match.
Prior to his early exit in Monaco, Djokovic last played competitively at the Dubai Tennis Championships in February where he lost to qualifier Jiri Vesely. The Serb has declared both losses came due to his lack of match fitness and crucial sharpness given his turbulent start to 2022.
While there are concerns regarding Djokovic's match sharpness due to his light schedule during the opening months of the season, Rusedski believes Djokovic is still the man to beat in men’s tennis. The 48-year-old said this week's Serbian Open is the perfect place for the World No.1 to return to form ahead of Roland Garros.
“It doesn’t matter how he wins,” Rusedski said on Amazon Prime. “He just needs to win matches even if it’s ugly, six in the third [set]. If he wins in Belgrade, welcome back.
“You don’t lose class. You miss match sharpness but winning becomes a habit. He needs to get back on the train again. Whether that’s next week or the week after, but he’ll be ready to defend his (French Open) title.”
Meanwhile, Hantuchova – who won each of the four Grand Slams in the mixed doubles discipline during her career – played down Djokovic’s defeat to Davidovich Fokina in Monte Carlo. She added: “In a way, I feel like Alejandro [Davidovich Fokina] helped him to not lose so much confidence and hope because he sees that ‘okay it’s one of the best clay court players at the moment.’
“So he doesn’t feel like ‘I lost to someone who I was supposed to really win, I lost to someone who is playing incredible tennis’. So I think that it’s going to help Novak looking ahead to Belgrade.”
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On top of the vaccination saga, Djokovic was forced to watch helplessly as rival Rafael Nadal won in Melbourne to move to 21 Grand Slam titles. It took him one clear of Roger Federer and Djokovic to act as the all-time leader in major men’s singles titles won.
The 34-year-old will look to defend his Roland Garros crown, but his clay-court season did not get off to the best start in Monaco. Djokovic was unceremoniously dumped out of the Monte-Carlo Masters, falling to underdog Davidovich Fokina 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-1 in the second round.
Djokovic was clearly lacking match sharpness as the tournament was just the second event he has competed in since the turn of the year due to his vaccination status amid Covid restrictions. He will now play the Serbia Open, the last test before the Masters 1000 in Madrid and Rome.
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