Novak Djokovic will kick off his 2019 clay-court campaign on home soil in Monte Carlo next week, hoping to start building momentum as he tries to win his fourth straight Grand Slam title, in Paris.
After winning his record seventh Australian Open in January, which was also his third straight Grand Slam title and 15th overall, Djokovic already had his sights set on this year’s clay-court season.
“I know there’s a lot of tournaments to play before Roland Garros, so I have plenty of time to build my form slowly, obviously staying on a hard court first with big tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, then starting the clay,” he said in Melbourne. “Obviously I have to work on my game—my clay court game—a bit more. I need to play better than I did last season. I’m already playing better than last year, but I have to play better on clay, specifically, in order to have a chance and shot at the title.
“The ultimate challenge there is to win against Nadal. Then there’s Thiem and Zverev, Roger is probably going to play—you have a lot of great players that on clay can challenge me or anybody.”
After Rafael Nadal, Djokovic is one of the most accomplished players on clay at the moment, if not the most. The 2016 French Open champion is one of only three active players other than Nadal to have won the clay court Grand Slam, the other two being Roger Federer in 2009 and Stan Wawrinka in 2015. He’s also one of only two players ever to beat Nadal there, doing so in the 2015 quarterfinals—the only other man to do that was Robin Soderling, who beat him in the fourth round in 2009.
Djokovic has also won eight of his 32 career Masters 1000 titles on clay, including multiple titles at all of the current Masters 1000 events on clay. He’s won Monte Carlo twice before, in 2013 and 2015.
The Serb also lives in Monte Carlo.
“I spend a lot of time in Monte Carlo. It really feels like home to me,” he said. “It’s always exciting to play a tournament where you spend most of your time when you’re not travelling on the tour.
“It’s a bike ride or a walk to the tennis club from my home, so it’s a really special feeling.”
Djokovic is hoping to shake off early losses in his two outings since Australia—a third round loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber at Indian Wells and a fourth round loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in Miami.
“Let’s see what happens,” he said of the imminent switch to clay. “You know, I grew up on clay, so I like playing on clay, although statistically hard courts have always been my most successful surface.
“We’ll see. I definitely have to play better than I have the last couple of tournaments.”
Djokovic could have a rematch with Kohlschreiber in his first match in Monte Carlo—after a first round bye, the top-seeded Serb will play either the German or Australian wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis.