PARIS (Reuters) - Favorite Novak Djokovic will not be unduly alarmed by the prospect of facing defending champion Rafa Nadal in the quarter-final of the French Open, according to twice winner Jim Courier.
Serb Djokovic has been virtually unplayable this year, amassing a 35-2 win-loss record including the Australian Open title and Masters 1000 triumphs at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome, and has a golden chance to complete his career grand slam in Paris.
Struggling Nadal’s low seeding of six means Djokovic will bump into the claycourt king far sooner than expected, having lost to him in two of the last three finals.
“If I were (Djokovic’s coach) Boris Becker and I were counseling Novak I would tell him look, it doesn’t matter, if you want to win this tournament then all roads lead to Nadal,” Courier, commentating for ITV Sport, told Reuters.
“So whether you get him in the quarters the semis or the final it doesn’t matter, you still have to beat him.
“That’s the reality, that’s the truth.”
“We had a situation a couple of years ago when he and Rafa played in the semi-finals with (David) Ferrer waiting in the final and Novak knew that was the final.
“He would approach the quarter-finals if we get there in exactly the same fashion. It would be absolutely like a final.”
Courier, the French Open champion in 1991 and 1992, said Nadal’s struggle for top form had made the men’s singles here the most intriguing for years and suggested variables such as the weather could make the difference.
“It’s a really top heavy draw,” he said. “Rafa didn’t want to be in Novak’s quarter and I can assure you that Novak didn’t want him there either,” he said.
“If (the weather) gets hot it will favor Nadal because the ball bounces a lot more and zips through the court a lot faster; if it’s cold and heavy it’s better for someone like Djokovic who is almost impenetrable defense wise,” added the American.
With Djokovic dominating, Courier is of the opinion that a calendar year grand slam is within the 28-year-old’s range — should he break his duck at the French.
“He has a real shot if he does win Roland Garros of the natural grand slam, there is a lot on the line here, it’s going to be awesome to watch,” Courier said.
Eight-times grand slam champion Djokovic begins his title quest against Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen while Nadal plays French youngster Quentin Halys.
(This version of the story corrects number of grand slams won by Djokovic in final paragraph)
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis