Roland Garros Notebook: Novak’s resurgence? It’s all mental

What were once weaknesses have now become strengths, with Djokovic’s temperament and stamina actually winning him matches.

PARIS – The maxim that tennis is a game which is played between the ears has been proven true yet again by Novak Djokovic this year.
The 24-year-old Serbian always had the passion and potential, but until this year his promise remained unfulfilled.
Sure, he had already proven that he is one of the best players in the world by winning the Australian Open in 2008 and holding a place among the top-four in the ATP rankings over the last four years.
But it always seemed as if he was capable of so much more.
It was clear that something was holding him back, but it was impossible to tell if he would ever show the world how good he really is.
In 2011, everything has finally fallen into place.
He’s improved his fitness, worked on his shots and has even taken on a much publicized gluten-free diet, but the biggest change has taken place in his head.
“The hard work that I put in is paying off now,” said Djokovic, who has won 39 straight matches since the start of the year, his latest a victory over Victor Hanescu in the second round at Roland Garros on Wednesday.
“I’m really trying to have the right mental approach to every match that I play in, try to think about only winning, about the next opponent, and this is what keeps me on the ground and keeps me very focused. “I’m not trying to think about the streak that I have, even though it’s definitely something that makes me proud.
“I know there is a lot of expectation because of the streak I have, but, look, I’m really happy the way I’m handling things right now on and off the court.”
Djokovic has shattered mental barriers which once seemed indestructible and is regularly brushing aside those who once dominated him, comfortably beating Roger Federer three times this year and getting the better of Rafael Nadal in four finals, the last two of which were on clay in Madrid and Rome.
What were once weaknesses have now become strengths, with Djokovic’s temperament and stamina actually winning him matches.
“I am much more confident than ever,” Djokovic said. “I have won every match that I played this year, and coming into a Grand Slam with three titles on clay courts and winning against the best player ever on this surface gives me a lot of motivation, a lot of confidence that I’m trying to use on the court, and I think that’s the difference.
“There are so many other things that I’ve been doing well throughout the years that have just come together right now: fitness, tennis, recovery program, all these kinds of things.”
Despite his incredible form, Djokovic still feels that he is not the man to beat in Paris.
“I think Nadal is the favorite because he has won all the matches except one in his career on this court,” the Serbian said. “I think that proves how dominant he is on center court of Roland Garros. He’s still No. 1, so he’s definitely the man to beat here. I’m aware of my results the last couple of months, they’re fantastic, but he’s still there.”
Djokovic may not be willing to admit it, but there are many people who feel that he is actually going to go all the way at the French Open.
Only time will tell if he goes on to prove them right, but even if he doesn’t, what once seemed impossible for Djokovic now looks to be inevitable, and that is perhaps his greatest accomplishment of all.