It’s no secret that World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has not been at his best since winning the Australian Open in January, and the 31-year-old admits that. But the Serbian, who defeated Jeremy Chardy on Thursday to reach the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open, knows that as quickly as he lost his best form, he can work out some kinks and pick it right back up again.
“It’s a huge challenge always to overcome any match in the big tournaments because everyone is motivated,” Djokovic said. “I’m experienced at this level. I know what to do and the good thing about tennis is you always have an opportunity within a week or two weeks, three weeks, to rectify maybe certain things that you felt like were not working.”
Djokovic did not reach the quarter-finals in either Indian Wells or Miami, doing so for the second consecutive year. But the two-time Madrid champion stayed calm, and after making a step in the right direction by advancing to the last eight in Monte-Carlo, he is into the quarter-finals at the Caja Magica with a chance to go even further against ninth seed Marin Cilic, who is into this stage of a tournament for the first time all year.
“It’s all a learning curve especially when you are losing in early rounds and matches that you are supposed to win against players you are supposed to win [against],” Djokovic said. “Of course, it does feel disappointing especially because I was on such a roll for so long. But I have to move on.”
With Djokovic owning a stranglehold on the No. 1 ATP Ranking, it’s easy to forget that last July he was outside the Top 20. But the Serbian bounced back to win two ATP Masters 1000 trophies and two Grand Slam championships to finish out the season.
“It’s not the first time in my career that I’m experiencing those ups and downs,” Djokovic said. “I tried to keep it as stable as possible not to have too big of an extreme swing. But everyone plays their best when they are playing against the top players.”
Djokovic has looked in strong form in Madrid, winning all four sets he has played. The top seed saved the four break points he faced against Chardy, who was firing from the baseline in a tight second set, which went to a tie-break.
“I felt good on the court in general and played well. Of course, coming into the match with Jeremy I knew the score. I had to be quite positive so you do have a little bit more of a confidence coming into a match knowing that you’ve never lost to your opponent,” said Djokovic, who now leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 13-0. “But he was playing well here.”
Chardy had a set point to force a decider, but Djokovic locked in, overcoming any pressure he might have felt given the moment and his recent form.
“Everyone is nervous. I mean, now how you handle that, how you control that, that’s different. So I haven’t felt extremely nervous or anything like that. It was normal because he was up in the score in the second set. I was chasing the whole second set. He played well and he was one point away to win the set,” Djokovic said. “Of course, I felt my nerves a bit that game. But nothing in particular.”
It’s all about moving forward for the 32-time Masters 1000 champion, who with a triumph this week could tie World No. 2 Rafael Nadal’s all-time title record at this level.
“I’m building slowly,” Djokovic said. “Roland Garros, on clay is where I want to peak. But of course I would love to try to get as far as in this tournament and also in Rome next week as possible.”