Novak Djokovic enters the French Open with 'low expectations and high hopes'

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic has yet to win a title this season. Hasn't even reached a final. His schedule has been lighter than usual, and so has his record, which is just 14-6 entering the French Open.

So this is how he framed his outlook for Roland Garros on Sunday: "Low expectations and high hopes."

And just how low are those expectations? Well, this is Novak Djokovic we're talking about — the owner of 24 Grand Slam titles, including his third in Paris a year ago, and more time at No. 1 than any player in the history of the computerized rankings — so his definition of that phrase differs greatly from pretty much anyone else's.

"It's tough to talk about. It's very subjective. I almost feel a bit embarrassed to say what my expectations are. Anything but a title for me is not satisfactory. It always has been like that," Djokovic said. "It might sound arrogant to a lot of people, but I think I have the career that backs it up."

Sure does. Which is why Djokovic, who turned 37 on Wednesday, probably figures what has been going on this year does not necessarily mean he can't turn it on when it counts the most. And why other players, such as two-time French Open runner-up Casper Ruud, agree with that assessment.

"To me, even though Novak hasn't had the best year as he typically has, or the same level, I think he is still the favorite," Ruud said. "He is the No. 1 seed, and he has 24 Slams under his belt, so if there's anyone who knows when to find their peak and form, it's probably him."

Djokovic is coming off a loss in the semifinals at the Geneva Open, a lower-tier event that he normally would never enter on the eve of a major. He said after that defeat that he had stomach problems. Before that came a second-round loss at the Italian Open — and a bizarre episode in which a spectator's water bottle conked him in the head after a match — which was preceded by a semifinal setback against Rudd at Monte Carlo.

In all, Djokovic is 0-3 in semifinals this season — he was beaten at that stage by Jannik Sinner at the Australian Open — and this is only the second time since Djokovic won his first ATP title in 2006 that he has entered the French Open without getting to least one final anywhere.

He's taken some time off, too, missing tournaments in Miami and Madrid, for example. On Saturday, he alluded in a vague way to off-court matters that have affected him in 2024, saying only that there were "various things that were happening in the last couple of months, but I don't want to get into it. I hope you understand that. It's just I don't want open Pandora's Box and talk about things."

As for the source of the "high hopes" he mentioned Sunday?

"I would say that I know what I'm capable of, and particularly in the Grand Slams, I normally play the best tennis — at least I aim always to play the best tennis — and I was most of my career able to do that, so that's the goal," Djokovic said.

"It does affect me, the five months that I had so far in the year that haven't been great in terms of my tennis," he acknowledged. "That's why I have kind of an approach that is focused on a daily basis more trying to build the form and momentum, so that I can have a better chance to reach further in the tournament."


Howard Fendrich has been the AP's tennis writer since 2002. Find his stories here:


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