Novak Djokovic is ready for a changing of the guard at the summit of tennis after establishing his clay-court credentials with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 title victory at the Rome Masters.
The Sunday win over Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka hands the world No. 3 his third major title of the year after the Australian Open and hardcourt Masters at Indian Wells in March.
With the fall at the Foro Italico of favorites Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who preceed him in the rankings, the 20-year-old believes a change could be in the air. And he’s prepared to try and make it in the run-up to the French Open starting on May 25.
“I was aiming for Rome and Roland Garros as my two priorities in this clay court season. But Hamburg is next week, so I’ll try to do the best that I can there. I’ll try to recover in these two or three days,” Djokovic said.
Wawrinka looked like dealing Djokovic a disheartening defeat on the clay of the Foro Italico, where both men reached the decider after their semi-finals opponents withdrew due to injury.
Wawrinka spent only about 20 minutes on court in his semi-final before No.6 seed Andy Roddick succumbed to a back problem with the score at 3-0 in the first set. Djokovic played for a bit longer, but he was leading Radek Stepanek 6-0, 1-0 when the Czech decided he was too weak to continue.
But Djokovic gathered his game to ensure the tenth success of his career. Nadal, the three-time champion, was ousted in the second round while Federer lost in the quarters.
While he’s pleased to have won, Djokovic can sympathize with his higher-ranked rivals.
“Everybody got used to Federer and Nadal playing the finals of every major event. All I can say is that mentally they’re struggling,” he said.
“There is so much pressure and so much expectation that they have to be in the final on every surface and in every tournament that they play,” the Serb said.
“This year they have been not playing as well as they were playing in past years, but we’re going to see a lot of them in continuation of the season, that’s for sure,” he said.
Djokovic couldn’t help but revel in his own success after losing a final two years ago on clay to Wawrinka.
“I’m very happy that I managed to win a major in this surface, now I have more confidence approaching the big events on this surface,” Djokovic said.
“This year has been like a dream for me, but I want to continue. I want to finish the year as the number one in the points race,” he said.
“I’ve been in the role of favorite this year, and I’ve been coping with the pressure really well so far,” Djokovic said. “If I really want to stay on the top of men’s tennis, I need to get used to those things. It’s normal.”
“Pressure is part of the sport, and I think pressure is a challenge for every player,” he said.