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Novak's New Approach

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic is hoping for good results at the three clay-court Masters 1000s leading into Roland Garros.

Novak Djokovic has a different approach to the clay-court season this year. Roland Garros remains very much a target for the Serb, as the only major championship to elude his trophy cabinet, but he is determined to focus on the importance of the three upcoming ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournaments and not get caught up in the quest to complete a career Grand Slam.

Competing next week as the defending champion at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Djokovic looks to continue the winning run that saw him claim back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns in Indian Wells and Miami last month. Djokovic has won four Masters 1000 titles in a row, and was also the undefeated champion at the 2013 year-end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, taking his winning streak at that level to 26 matches. 

Now, the Belgrade native is hoping to add three more Masters 1000 titles on the clay before taking another crack at Roland Garros.

Last year, Djokovic came the closest he has yet to lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires in Paris, holding a 4-2 lead over Rafael Nadal in the fifth set of their semi-final. Had he held on, he would have challenged first-time finalist David Ferrer in the championship match. 

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"Last year, Roland Garros was more in my mind,” admitted Djokovic on Sunday in a sit-down interview with assembled media at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. “It was in my thoughts constantly. I'm not saying it's good or bad, and it doesn't mean that this year I don't want to win it. Of course I will put all my effort into it, but only when the time comes. 

“Right now I want to dedicate my attention to Monte-Carlo, Madrid and Rome, three very big tournaments on clay. This is where I want to do well and eventually get myself in a very good position in terms of confidence for the French Open.

"Last year, I put a lot of energy - mentally, physically and emotionally - into winning that title. It didn't help much for the tournaments prior to that, like Madrid and Rome. I have a different kind of approach this year. On the ATP World Tour we have a lot of important tournaments. When the time comes we will talk about the Grand Slams.”

After, by his own admission, a “slow” start to 2014, Djokovic, who is in Monte-Carlo with Boris Becker, is approaching the clay-court swing high in confidence. "It's easier to lose confidence than to gain it,” explained the Serb. 

“Right now I do have confidence after the wins that I had in Indian Wells and Miami. They arrived at the right moment for me because I had a bit of a slow start to the season. Beating Rafa and Roger [Federer] in the finals definitely gives me a confidence boost. Hopefully I can use that at the start of the clay-court season.”

Djokovic pulled off the seemingly impossible last year when he dethroned eight-time reigning champion Nadal in the final in Monte-Carlo. The pair recently played the 40th match of their rivalry, which has ebbed and flowed over the past couple of years, with both players enjoying winning runs. 

Right now, Djokovic is the man on top, having won his past three clashes with the Spaniard, most recently in the Sony Open Tennis final. Before that, Nadal had won six of seven and prior to that Djokovic had won seven in a row. The pair could meet for the 41st time in a week’s time in the final of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters

“I hope this latest cycle is going to last!” joked Djokovic. “The positive fact about our rivalry is that we make each other improve and we make each other think about what we have to do better next time after the losses in the big matches. This cycle of winning streaks on my side and his side shows there was a kind of approach or progress from both of us. 

“I've played 40 times with Rafa. It's the biggest rivalry I've had in my career. We're the same generation. We still have lots of time in front of us. It's a huge challenge whenever I play Rafa, Roger, Andy, but the rivalry with Rafa is the biggest in my career.” 

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