Djokovic looking forward to meeting Nadal on clay
Novak Djokovic has defeated Rafael Nadal twice this year to hold a 24-0 record in 2011. He now has to find a way to beat the No. 1 player in the world on Nadal's favorite surface.
Although Djokovic is 0-9 against Nadal on clay, he is relishing the challenge against the five-time French Open champion after beating him in back-to-back hard-court finals at the Sony Ericsson and BNP Paribas Open after falling a set behind each time.
''Important for me, mentally,'' Djokovic said Sunday. ''I have this self-belief that I can win against him in finals, which I didn't do in the past couple of years.
''If I want to have a shot at No. 1, I will have to play consistently well in major tournaments because I know Roger and Rafa will do that if I don't.''
The 23-year-old Serb is off to the best start to a year since Ivan Lendl swept his first 25 matches in 1986. He has won 59 of 65 sets and four tournament titles on three continents, including the Australian Open, to take the No. 2 ranking from Roger Federer - the last player to beat him.
''I believe this year I'm a different player by all means. I think I'm physically very fit, very fast,'' Djokovic said. ''I feel more powerful on the court overall, and the confidence I have is at the highest point possible.''
That confidence will be tested when he meets Nadal on clay. But that test will have to wait after Djokovic pulled out of the Monte Carlo Masters with a knee problem.
Djokovic expects to be back practicing next week before playing at the Serbia Open in Belgrade later this month.
''Not a major issue in the knee but a discomfort that I carry with me for the last three months,'' Djokovic said. ''I've been wearing the tape for every tournament I've played since Australia. More for prevention. I'm confident with a bit of rest it will go away.
''I was really looking forward to continue that run on the clay-court season here in Monte Carlo. I think I have enough quality to compete with the best on clay as well because I have done that in the past. In 2009, I had a great clay-court season, played a couple of finals against Nadal.''
Federer has lost his past three matches to Djokovic and isn't surprised by his rival's form.
''I always said it over and over again - to me, he didn't need to prove his point,'' Federer said. ''By winning a second major, winning back-to-back Masters 1000s, going on a streak like he's doing right now, I knew he could do it.
''It focuses on something very positive in the game. There's been different times when we talked about gambling, doping, other stupid things that are annoying to talk about. This is something very positive.''
An entertainer on court, Djokovic had still been prone to sudden bouts of anger during matches. He controls his temperament much better now and credits leading Serbia to win the Davis Cup over France in December as a major turning point.
''It was the best feeling I have experienced on the tennis court. Ever. You are not representing yourself, you are playing for your country,'' Djokovic said. ''It proved to be a crucial win in Belgrade. From there, I didn't lose a match.
''It gave me a lot of good energy, positive encouragement and boost,'' he added. ''Even though the offseason was very short, I was eager to come back and play more tennis.''