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Novak Djokovic makes French Open demand to overcome Rafael Nadal after Belgrade defeat

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Sport Feed

Novak Djokovic makes French Open demand to overcome Rafael Nadal after Belgrade defeat

World No 1 Novak Djokovic has admitted that plenty of improvements will be needed in order to stand any chance of taking the French Open title from hot favourite and defending champion Rafael Nadal later this year. Djokovic achieved the first Grand Slam triumph of the new season with victory at the Australian Open, strolling to the trophy despite struggling with a troublesome muscle injury for the vast majority of the tournament.

However, his preparations for the next major at Roland Garros took a hit on Saturday as he was knocked out of the Serbia Open in his home town of Belgrade.

Djokovic would have been hoping for another routine victory against Aslan Karatsev in a repeat of his semi-final in Melbourne, but failed to live up to expectations this time around, succumbing to a narrow 7-5 4-6 6-4 defeat.

The Serb has made it clear on a number of previous occasions that his current aim is to close the gap to Nadal and Roger Federer, who have both won 20 Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic currently sits two adrift on 18 after his stellar campaign in Australia, but the upcoming French Open will provide a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit even further ahead of Wimbledon, which is set to get underway at the end of June.

Nadal, who has gained a formidable reputation as the king of clay, is widely expected to seal yet another title at Roland Garros but his frustrated rival has stressed that he will be looking to put Saturday’s disappointment behind him in order to challenge the Spaniard’s dominance.

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“Hats off to Karatsev, he was bold and deserved to win,” Djokovic told a virtual press conference.

“I will probably not be able to recollect all the memorable rallies in this match because I lost. I am not happy with my performance, I put up a fight but he delivered great shots every time he needed to.

“I was unlucky at times, it all came down to one or two shots but I had too many ups and downs throughout the match.

“Roland Garros is the main goal, but I need to play better if I’m thinking about doing something there. I have a lot of work ahead of me.”

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Saturday’s result marked another surprise defeat for Djokovic after he was downed by British No 1 Dan Evans at the Monte-Carlo Masters earlier this month.

The 33-year-old’s next outing is likely to come at the Madrid Open ahead of his return to Roland Garros, but he is still yet to confirm whether or not he will play at the competition in the Spanish capital.

Dissecting his performance against Karatsev, Djokovic admitted that his opposite number was the better man on the day, but suggested that there were still plenty of positives to take from the defeat as he looks to optimise his game on clay in preparation for the French Open.

“From my side, I played on quite a low level, in my opinion,” added Djokovic.

“[I had] some flashes of good quality tennis, I was fighting. That is a positive. I was really trying all the way [and] the crowd was great.

“They carried me and tried to lift me up, all the way to the end. Because of them, I think I won the second set.

“Unfortunately in the third, he was just the better player in the decisive moments. I had my chances, but that is sport.”

The draw for this year’s French Open will be made shortly ahead of the tournament, which is expected to begin on May 30 after it was pushed back as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘I am humbled’: Wild parties, light show & fireworks as tennis icon Novak Djokovic hails new record on streets of Belgrade (VIDEO)

‘I am humbled’: Wild parties, light show & fireworks as tennis icon Novak Djokovic hails new record on streets of Belgrade (VIDEO)

Serbian icon Novak Djokovic has raucously celebrated his new all-time record for the most weeks as world No1 in men’s tennis, joining a huge street party staged by his devoted fans in Belgrade.

The 33-year-old, who won his 18th Grand Slam last month, has topped the ATP rankings for a record-breaking 311 weeks, beating Roger Federer’s achievement of 310.

Djokovic’s latest stint as the highest-ranked men’s player began in February 2020, when he reclaimed the No.1 spot from his principal rival, Rafael Nadal of Spain.

The player’s remarkable achievement didn’t go unnoticed by his fans, who took to the streets of Belgrade to stage an impromptu party in honor of their idol. Djokovic and his family joined the crowd, watching fireworks in front of the restaurant they own in Belgrade.

The all-time great was spotted singing along with fans outside the restaurant in recognition of his historic feat.

Hundreds of fans chanted, “Nolo! Nolo!” and waved Serbian flags, while a stunning light show displaying the best moments from Djokovic’s career was projected onto Belgrade’s town hall.

After sharing the moment with fans, Djokovic celebrated the new record over dinner with his family and close friends.

Speaking of his pride the following day, Djokovic reflected: “As a kid, I would dream of lifting trophies and being best in the world. The hope was so powerful that it manifested itself against all the odds – finances, injuries, doubts, competing in the era of the biggest champions the sport has ever seen.

“I’m humbled to walk the path of our tennis legends and giants. To know I’ve earned my place among them gives me chills. It’s proof that anything is possible if your heart is in it and you’re championed by a team that never loses faith in you.

“I’m grateful for receiving each and every supportive message yesterday, which still proves to me that sport isn’t just records and trophies. The adversities we face, our highs and lows, the intensity with which we go for crazy, big dreams – all of it connects us deeper to each other.

“We are all together in this game. I’m celebrating this moment and so happy knowing that not only have I reached a huge milestone doing what I love to do, but that I also have many more years ahead of me playing my favorite sport in the world.”

Meanwhile, Spanish veteran Guillermo Garcia Lopez has recalled how his rival made him shed tears in his early days on the way to becoming a player who he describes as near-flawless.

Speaking about encountering the young Djokovic in the second round of Wimbledon in 2005, Garcia Lopez told The Times Hub: “When I came back, I was 6-5 and 40-0 – but he turned that game around and then [came] back. It was one of the few times that I have cried when leaving a court.
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“Novak is a phenomenon and a good person. He shows pain more than others, and that sometimes feels bad.

“I remember playing against him in Estoril and, when the game was very even, he stopped for 10 or 15 minutes because he said he couldn’t see well. He was gone for ages.

“People do not quite understand how someone is able to recover when a moment ago he was not able to walk or his shoulder fell. I think he has a higher [pain] threshold than the others.

“I fully understand that…he likes to show his problems. He’s warm-blooded, Balkan, he gets nervous.”
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Unsurprisingly, Garcia Lopez rates his countryman Nadal, Djokovic and fellow great Roger Federer as “different souls” in the sport.

“He is a misunderstood idol,” the former US Open finalist said of Djokovic. “Who should set an example? He must do what he believes and feels. Nobody should act like a robot.

“Perhaps he has little filter when it comes to speaking and he says what comes to mind – maybe not like you would say to a friend.

“But if he wants to say something, he says it and that sometimes takes its toll on [your reputation]. In any case, no one can argue that he is one of the best in history.”
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