Defending champion Novak Djokovic reflected upon the latest chapter of his rivalry with Rafael Nadal ahead of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in Monaco.
Watch the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters live:
Djokovic beat Nadal 6-2, 7-6(1) in the final in 2013 to end Nadal’s eight-year winning run and although that victory did not help him prevail in their dramatic five-set semifinal at Roland Garros, Djokovic has won the last three meetings with Nadal in straight sets, including a routine 6-3, 6-3 victory over the world no. 1 in the final of the Sony Open in Miami.
‘Winning this title last year in the final against Nadal was definitely one of the highlights of my career. I really love playing in this tournament,’ ESPN quotes Djokovic
. ‘My family comes in big numbers during this week so it makes me feel very comfortable, and at home.’
Djokovic certainly seems comfortable in Monaco, where he lives for part of the year, posting videos of himself playing with his dog Tesla on the clay and practicing with a variety of players ahead of his title defence. But the odds would still be against him in a potential meeting with Nadal in Monte Carlo – not only has Nadal won this title eight times, but Djokovic still trails the head-to-head with Nadal 18-22.
The world no. 2, however, thinks that he might have put too much pressure on himself to win the French Open – the only Grand Slam title he has not captured – in 2013.
‘Yeah, last year, I put a lot of energy, mental, physical, emotional, into winning that title. I have a different kind of approach this year,’ he said. ‘Last year it was more in my mind. It was more in my thoughts, constantly ... Of course, I want to put all my effort into winning Roland Garros, but when the time comes.’
Winning either Monte Carlo or Roland Garros is almost certain to involve having to overcome Nadal on clay, no easy task, which Djokovic is well aware of.
‘We're more or less the same generation. We're still 27 and 26 so we still have lots of time in front of us,’ said Djokovic of his rivalry with Nadal. ‘It's a huge challenge, there's no question about it ... I do not exclude any other players, but the rivalry I had with him is the biggest one so far.’
Djokovic’s reunion with coach Boris Becker, who missed the tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami – which Djokovic won – due to hip surgery, will add another level of scrutiny to those which the world no. 2 routinely operates under, and fifth seed Tomas Berdych, seeded to meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals, is optimistic.
‘I managed to beat Novak last year in Rome,’ Berdych said. ‘If the conditions are fast, it's warm ... those are the conditions I prefer. If all the small things click together, there's always [a] chance.’
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, will be hoping to increase his lead on Djokovic for the world no. 1 ranking and to reverse his recent three consecutive straight-set losses, the most recent one in Miami, to the Serb.
‘Sure it always affects [you],’ Nadal said, speaking of the impact the Sony Open final might have on his chances in Monte Carlo, ‘but I hope to [be] ready to be back and compete on clay.
‘In Miami I didn't play my best level in the final. I didn't compete well enough. I wasn't ready yet to play that match and he played great, but I didn't push him.’
Nadal has dominated this part of the season since he was still a teenager, but as usual, the world no. 1 is taking nothing for granted heading into the clay-court season.
‘There's a start for everybody and there's an end,’ Nadal said. ‘I know that I'm not going to keep winning all the tournaments on clay forever and [there is] going to arrive a day when I'm not going to win one more ... hopefully not yet.’