Is Novak Djokovic the new King of Clay?
Novak Djokovic won clay courts events in Monte Carlo and Rome last year, but has never won the French Open where Rafa Nadal — and Stan Wawrinka last year — have stood in his way.
So far this year, Djokovic is seemingly unbeatable on any surface. He might soon get used to celebrating more victories on clay. This champagne cork nearly took out his eye in Rome. Djokovic later blamed the bottle for sensing that he doesn’t like champagne.
Djokovic has all the tools to become the new King of Clay. His high-kicking topspin second serve is a vicious weapon on clay, allowing him to control points from the baseline.
Along with the rest of his arsenal, he can keep opponents off-balance and out of rhythm with slice backhands and masterful drop shots achieved from behind the baseline with either hand.
The acrobatic Djokovic covers the wings perhaps better than any player in history. Opponents carefully construct points, maneuver him out of position, pull the trigger and hit winners — and the ball still comes back to them. Djokovic forces more errors than any other player — a key stat on clay. He can also generate his own power and hit clean winners from anywhere on court.
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He sometimes seems to be an alien from another planet.
Returning from knee surgery, can Roger Federer beat him? Federer seemed at his best in trouncing Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka in the Rome quarters and semi-finals last year, then hit a wall against Djokovic in the final. Djokovic returned Federer’s serves with interest, mauled his backhand, and forced Federer to hit forehands on the run — keeping him uncomfortable and under pressure.
Many observers think Djokovic can win all four grand slams this year. The French Open is perhaps the biggest hurdle, simply because Novak has never won it. Nadal has only ever lost twice at Roland Garros. Andy Murray won on clay at Munich and Madrid last year, but it’s not his best surface. Federer’s game remains best-suited for the grass of Wimbledon, and his legion of fans empower him everywhere. Wawrinka will have to duplicate his incredible hitting at last year’s final.
But Djokovic is clearly the most dominant player in tennis at the moment, and he’s playing some of the best tennis ever. If he wins at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros, he’ll not only usurp Nadal as the King of Clay, but will stake a claim to being the greatest all-court player ever.