The world No. 1 has three daunting challenges facing him on the tawny clay of Roland Garros. The first of them is a familiar one: Rafael Nadal. The second demands that he walk in the footsteps of Nadal and his other great rival, Roger Federer. The third takes him into territory very few players have explored. Let’s take them in order:
1. Nadal is looking for the second three-peat of his career at the French Open, the tournament he all but owns (six titles to just one loss). And after Djokovic put up seven straight wins over Nadal, the world No. 2 has beaten the Serb the last two times they’ve met—both on clay, within about five weeks.
2. Djokovic needs to win the French Open in order to complete a career Grand Slam, something accomplished by Nadal, Federer, and only two other men in the Open era, Rod Laver and Andre Agassi.
3. Should Djokovic win the French Open, he will be the first man since Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time. It’s still not the gold-standard Grand Slam (which Laver accomplished), but it’s as close as you can come.
Reason to Hope: The prevailing theory is that Djokovic has been pacing himself for a big push at Roland Garros. If indeed he’s so self-assured that he can tread water between majors, he’ll confirm the theory.
Reason to Worry: Talk about a no-brainer. Rafael Nadal has lost to just one match, to one man, in his entire career at Roland Garros (to Robin Soderling, in 2009).
The Last Word: Djokovic has been a little sloppy in his last few matches with Nadal; he no longer appears to have his consistency and stamina of 2011, so he needs to be extra careful of unforced errors and general lapses of focus.