Seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Mats Wilander believes Novak Djokovic will be ready to unleash his frustrations from a stop-start year so far, making him the favourite to win the French Open.
The defending champion will be competing in his first major of 2022, after he was forced to miss the Australian Open when he was deported from the country because of Covid vaccination status.
His view on jabs also meant he missed big tournaments in the US, such as Indian Wells, and his build up to Roland-Garros has been mixed - although he now looks to have found his groove.
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Djokovic beat Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the Italian Open at the weekend, which followed back-to-back defeats in finals to Carlos Alcaraz and Andrey Rublev in Madrid and Belgrade, respectively, on the back of an early exit to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in Monte Carlo.
But the world No. 1 was in imperious form to beat Tsitsipas, crushing the Greek player 6-0 in the opening set of Sunday’s victory, and though most of the hype is focusing on Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal’s fitness status, Eurosport expert Wilander thinks Djokovic will be the man to beat.
“I think Novak has to be the favourite,” he said.
"Winning in Rome will be huge for his confidence but Novak also has a feeling of revenge with everything that happened to him over the past few months that will give him strength.
“He is defending the French Open after not being able to play at the Australian Open so that’s huge as well. Now that he’s shown he can play tough matches, huge matches, even though he lost to Alcaraz in Madrid, he has shown he can play for a long time.
“In Monte Carlo, he looked bad in his match in the end with Davidovich [Fokina]. He looked bad, tired but suddenly now he looks much better.”
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The two-time Roland-Garros winner will find out his potential route to victory in Thursday evening’s draw, as he attempts to join record-holder Nadal on 21 Grand Slam titles, and although Wilander believes this is not the Serbian’s peak period of his career, he thinks his experience of playing high pressure tournaments still puts him ahead of up and coming talents, like Alcaraz.
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“Djokovic is the clear number one in his own group but we know how good he is at dealing with pressure,” said Wilander.
“Djokovic knows that he has memories of playing his best and memories of winning those big points. He has memories of trusting his own instincts and decisions and believing he is making the right decisions at the right times.
“He believes in the past, then the past will help him in the present time and that is where Novak has his strength. As soon as he believes he is making the right choices, then that’s when I believe he is back to being the best player in the world.
“I think he will be back at that point. I don’t think he is hitting the ball as well as he did in the past, I’m sure the confidence is not the same as it was in the past but I think if he believes in his own choices then he will be unstoppable."
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