Djokovic optimistic despite lowered expectations at Roland Garros

PARIS    -    Defending champion Novak Djokovic will have low expectations and high hopes at the French Open this year, but the top-ranked Serb said on Sunday that he knew how to raise his game on the biggest stage despite a wobbly season. Djokovic has had a bumpy few months by his own admission after the 37-year-old was denied a record-extending 11th title at the Australian Open by eventual champion Jannik Sinner in January, with erratic form affecting his rhythm thereafter. Having belatedly arrived at the year’s second major hoping to claim a record 25th Grand Slam and move past Margaret Court, Djokovic said he was cautious but also confident ahead of his opener with local hope Pierre-Hugues Herbert. “I know what I’m capable of, and particularly in the Grand Slams I normally play the best tennis, at least I aim always to play the best tennis and I was most of my career able to do that, so that’s the goal,” Djokovic told reporters.   “I’ve been saying for quite a while that in terms of clay I want to peak here in Paris, in Roland Garros. Last year I had an amazing year and particularly here. “Hopefully I can have a great tournament.”  Djokovic’s build-up to the major has hardly gone according to plan, as he crashed out of Rome two days after being hit on the head by a fan’s water bottle while signing autographs earlier this month.  A late wild card at Geneva offered him a chance to end his title drought last week, but he remains trophy-less five months into the season after a semi-final defeat by unheralded Tomas Machac on Friday.

“Of course it does affect me, the five months that I had so far in the year, that haven’t been great in terms of my tennis,” Djokovic added. “That’s why I have a an approach that is focused on a daily basis, more trying to build the form and momentum, so that I can have a better chance to reach further in the tournament.”

Despite his woes, Djokovic refused to write himself off as a title contender. “I almost feel a bit embarrassed to say what my expectations are. Anything but a title is not satisfactory... I know it might sound arrogant to a lot of people, but I think I have the career that backs it up,” he added.

“In a way, me playing still at this highest level, one of the major reasons is trying to write more history of the sport and win the biggest titles... So that’s why my hopes and goals are always the same, but I have to lower the expectations.

“When I say that I mean not thinking too much in terms of the tournament and who I might face in later rounds but taking it day by day, step by step and building my game. “Because that’s what I’ve really been struggling with, not really playing in a consistently good level.”

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