After a dismal March, what to make of Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo?

After a dismal March, what to make of Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo?

“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."

Novak Djokovic will kick off his 2019 clay-court campaign this week in Monte Carlo, where he hopes to begin building momentum as he begins his quest for a fourth straight Grand Slam title in Paris.

After winning his record seventh Australian Open in January—his 15th overall Grand Slam title—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 hardcourt first with big tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, then starting the clay,” he said in Melbourne.

Maybe Djokovic was looking a little too far ahead, given his results in March: a third-round loss in Indian Wells, to Philipp Kohlschreiber, and a fourth-round loss in Miami, to Roberto Bautista Agut.

“Obviously I have to work on my game—my clay-court game—a bit more," he continued in Melbourne. "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 [Rafael] Nadal. Then there’s [Dominic] Thiem and [Alexander] Zverev, Roger [Federer] is probably going to play–you have a lot of great players that on clay can challenge me or anybody.”

After Nadal, Djokovic is one of the most accomplished players in the game on clay. The 2016 French Open champion is one of only three active players other than Nadal to have won the clay-court Slam, the other two being Federer, in 2009; and Wawrinka, in 2015. He’s also one of only two players ever to beat Nadal at Roland Garros, doing so in the 2015 quarterfinals. The only other man to do that was Robin Soderling, who famously beat Nadal in the fourth round in 2009.

Djokovic has 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 traveling 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 his early losses in the March Masters events, with the shift in surface a welcome change.

“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.”

Novak Djokovic will also play doubles in Monte Carlo, with his brother, Marko.