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Djokovic: "Anything I was looking for here in Rome, I got"
Novak Djokovic said he feels “fresh” and “sharp” after winning his first title of 2022 in Rome and putting his season’s rocky start behind him. Will it be enough to catapult him to an even bigger win in Paris?
Published May 15, 2022
Novak Djokovic’s 2022 obviously didn’t get off to an ideal start. He couldn’t play the Australian Open, or even stay in the country. He couldn’t play in Indian Wells or Miami. When he finally did get out on court, in Monte Carlo and Belgrade, he wasn’t ready. The 34-year-old, who had come down with an illness just before the clay swing began, lost easily in the third set in both places.
But if anyone knows how to move on from a seemingly disastrous setback, it’s Djokovic. As a 20-time Grand Slam winner, he understands that there’s always another major around the corner, one that will make most of us forget about what happened at the last one.
After 18 years on tour, Djokovic also knows exactly how to prepare for a Slam, how to get his game where it needs to be to survive two weeks of best-of-five-set matches. He began that process in Madrid, where he made the semifinals and battled Carlos Alcaraz over three of the most intense sets of the season. By then, he said, the traces of his earlier illness had passed.
“I know I’m the kind of player, particularly on clay, that needs more time, at least three, four weeks, to get to the desired level,” Djokovic said of his mindset this spring.
“I usually peak here in Rome. Always a really good week of tennis with a lot of matches, competitiveness on the court. Anything that I was looking for here in Rome I got.”
Djokovic won five matches at the Foro Italico, all in straight sets. He beat three Top 10 players in Felix Auger-Aliassime, Casper Ruud, and Stefanos Tsitsipas; the last of those three was runner-up to him at Roland Garros last year, and will be a title contender again this time. Along the way, Djokovic won his 1,000th match, his 87th title, his 38th Masters 1000, and perhaps most satisfying of all, his first tournament of 2022.
“To some extent it’s a relief because after everything that happened at the beginning of the year, was important for me to win a big title,” he said.
“That amount of pressure and everything that I was feeling in the first few months of the year, as much as I’ve felt pressure in my life and my career, that was something really on a whole different level. But I feel it’s already behind me.”
If the Alcaraz match in Madrid showed that his stamina was still intact, his quarterfinal win over Auger-Aliassime in Rome showed the same about his shot-making flair and competitive brio. Over two tight sets, in front of a raucous night crowd, Djokovic pulled out all of the old stops—the sliding gets, the running passing shots, the drops and lobs, the fist-pumps and primal roars. Whatever the 21-year-old Canadian could do, the Serb showed he could still do it better.
The final wasn’t as spectacular, in part because Tsitsipas, who had been pushed to three sets in his quarterfinal and semifinal wins on Friday and Saturday, came out pancake-flat on Sunday. Still, after losing the first set 6-0, Tsitsipas went up a break in the second set and forced Djokovic to dig in and fight.
Down 1-4, Djokovic faced a break point, and saved it with one of his best shots of the day, a crosscourt backhand winner. Down 2-5, 15-30, he rallied to hold with a forehand winner and an ace. And in the second-set tiebreaker, Djokovic locked down, took no risks, and sent looping balls to Tsitsipas’s weaker side, his backhand. It wasn’t a thrilling style of play, but you can’t argue with success. Tsitsipas made three unforced errors with his backhand, including one on match point.
“I couldn’t ask for a better week really,” Djokovic said. “Played a perfect set today. Didn’t drop a set the whole tournament. I trusted the process really when I started training on clay.”
Djokovic says he goes to Paris, where he’s the defending champion, with “the highest ambitions.”
“The way I’ve been feeling on the court and off the court in the last few weeks, I really think I can go far.”
Grand Slams are “played differently” than Masters 1000s, Djokovic said. For him, this year, Roland Garros will also offer a chance to start from square one, and put what happened in Australia firmly in the past. That alone should be motivation enough for him.