Since losing in the final of the US Open last September, Djokovic has been nigh unstoppable and you have to go back to Cincinnati in August to find the last time he lost a match at a Masters event. In the meantime he’s clinched titles in Shanghai, Paris, London (the World Tour Finals), Indian Wells, Miami and now Rome.
In the process he’s beaten Rafael Nadal four times in a row and after years of playing understudy to his great rival at Roland Garros, perhaps now is finally the time for Djokovic to step out of his shadow and clinch the title which has eluded him for so long.
Nadal has long been the scourge of Djokovic’s French Open chances, defeating him five times in Paris in the past eight years, three times in the semi-finals.
However, at his very best Djokovic can control the rallies against Nadal with breathtaking ease, in a way which is simply impossible for any other player.
The perceived influence of Boris Becker was much derided by the media at the start of the year, especially after Djokovic’s shock quarter-final exit at the Australian Open.
However in the past few months, Djokovic has developed vastly greater amounts of confidence in the forecourt, and he had no hesitation in stepping up the court at key moments in the Rome final, knocking off difficult volleys with aplomb.
In the background, Becker could be seen nodding his approval.
“I am very happy with my game right now and I hope I can carry it to Roland Garros,” Djokovic said afterwards. “I tried to be aggressive from the start of the match, it didn’t work a lot and I made a lot of unforced errors but I didn’t change the game plan and then I found the hitting range, the right rhythm on the court and I felt much more comfortable.”
Djokovic admits that while he used to panic if Nadal got off to a quickfire start, these days he trusts himself far more and believes in his ability to wrest the match back in his favour.
“I don’t underestimate any opponent and especially not Rafa who is the best player ever in the history of tennis on this surface,” he said.
“We all know his record. I never feel I have the match in my hands against him especially on clay, but these days I do have the belief in myself and my abilities that in the end my mental strength and experience will help me to stay calm and play the right shots at the right time.”
Defeating Nadal over five sets on Court Philippe Chatrier is arguably the toughest challenge in the whole of world tennis and Robin Soderling remains the only player to have managed the feat.
Djokovic is under no illusions as to the difficulty of his task should he encounter Nadal in Paris once again. He was slight favourite in the eyes of some pundits ahead of their semi-final last year but Nadal came from 4-1 down in the fifth set to clinch a classic encounter 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 9-7.
“There are always a lot of rallies and long points between us and this is part of our rivalry, especially on the slow surfaces,” Djokovic continued.
“He’s physically the fittest player on tour but I know that I am pretty fit too. With my team I have been doing a great job in the last two years getting myself in the right shape and this gives me a lot of confidence once I’m on court as I know I can rally with him.
But the only way to beat him is to be aggressive.”
A few weeks ago it looked as if Djokovic’s very participation in Paris was in severe doubt after a wrist injury which forced him to withdraw from the Madrid Masters.
However after three weeks rest, he declared he was virtually pain-free and has no concerns ahead of the French Open.
“I didn’t know how the wrist was going to react in Rome but luckily for me I played with no pain, increasing the level of my tennis as the week went on,” he said.
“I had some tough matches - 4 out of 5 went to three sets and had to come back from a set down against Raonic and Nadul but it held up.”
Djokovic dedicated his entire prize money from winning Rome to the flood relief efforts in Serbia and Bosnia.
At least 40 people have died and the rising water levels have sparked 2,000 landslides, exposing many landmines left over from conflicts in the 1990s. Over the past week Djokovic has been continuously trying to draw attention to the plight of his countrymen and declared that he will be competing with them in mind during the French Open.
“It’s something that has taken away a lot of hope and homes and not being present makes me sad because I cannot physically contribute,” he said.
“If I was there I would, definitely. As soon as the flood passes by we’ll need help from the world because the process of recovery in our country can last for months or years and it will depend on how much help we get.
This is the biggest disaster in the history of our country and people internationally didn’t know much about it and that’s why I am trying to spread the awareness.”