Novak Djokovic’s ‘new coach’ explains why Serb is better than Rafael Nadal on clay

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It’s been a difficult start to 2022 for the world No 1 thus far, but Novak Djokovic stands a strong chance of beating Rafael Nadal to the French Open. That’s according to coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who could reportedly add ‘Nole’ to his stable of stars.

The narrative among tennis’ elite has long been that Nadal is king on clay, while the likes of Djokovic and Roger Federer perform better on grass and hard-court surfaces. The statistics back that up considering Nadal boasts a record 13 titles at Roland Garros—five more than any other player—while Djokovic (two) and Federer (one) have won a combined three times in Paris.

This year’s French Open could be Djokovic’s first working with Mouratoglou—who has coached Serena Williams since 2012 and recently linked up with Simona Halep—according to reports in Serbia. The 20-time Grand Slam-winner parted ways with Slovak mentor Marian Vajda for a second time earlier this year, not long after he was denied in his bid to defend the Australian Open crown.

Mouratoglou recently posted a series of videos on Instagram previewing an “unbelievable” clay season, in which the winner at Roland Garros may dictate momentum for the rest of the year. A fifth French Open gong in six years would give Nadal a two-major lead over Djokovic and Federer, while Nole has a chance to pull level on 21 titles apiece.

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“If you think about Roland Garros now, you can think that it is the most open for the last 10 to 15 years,” said Mouratoglou as he continued his recent praise of the world’s top-ranked player. “If Novak is able to win a lot between the start of the clay season and Roland Garros, then it won’t be that open. Because Novak when he is at his top, even on clay, I think he is the best player in the world. I know it’s weird to say that when you see the number of Roland Garros that Rafa has won. But if you look at the figures, Novak beat Rafa many times on clay.”

Eight times from 27 clay encounters, to be exact. The most recent of those came in last year’s French Open semi-finals, though Nadal had triumphed in five straight meetings on his favoured surface prior to that. Taking those numbers into account, the praise courtesy of Djokovic’s alleged new coach feels like a bit more a stretch.

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While Djokovic is set to begin his clay season at the upcoming Monte-Carlo Masters, Mouratoglou also ramped up the pressure on Nadal, who is currently struggling with a rib injury. “I think, for Rafa, it’s going to be tough,” added the Frenchman. “Thankfully for him, he has a lot of confidence from the start of the season, but we know how much he loves to play a lot of matches before Roland Garros to feel fully in control.”

He described it as a “big hurdle” for the Spaniard that Nadal may not have that preferred level of preparation heading to Paris. Mouratoglou then smiled as he concluded it’s “not easy” that the 35-year-old may therefore have to hit the ground running, in which case French Open titleholder Djokovic will be among the most likely to pounce.

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