Can Novak Djokovic find his dominant self in the 2017 clay season?

The World No 2 enters the Monte Carlo Masters as the second seed and is grouped in the same half as nine-time champion Rafael Nadal.

 Novak Djokovic mapped out the resurgence of his career, about six years ago, in 2011 when he won three Majors and a total of 10 singles titles to become the World No 1 for the first time in his career. However, it wasn’t until 2012, when he reached the French Open final that he began to emerge as a contender to win the French Open, and complete the Grand Slam.

In the near five years between 2012 and 2016, when he finally got to that milestone, Djokovic had had his hopes crashed several times over. So much so that it started to seem as if he were trying to compensate for any (potential) fall-out in Paris with over-enthused performances in each of the tournaments preceding the French Open.

With Nadal taking centre-stage, the pressure is off for Djokovic

A year on, though, Djokovic finds himself much removed from the urgency that took him to a long untraversed peak of tennis’ success, before briskly hurtling him down from that same peak.

Djokovic has got his Roland Garros title defence preparations underway along with trying to defend the sizeable portion of his points won in the other clay tournaments. But, the 4,600-odd points that account for Djokovic’s clay season’s points defence don’t seem to be weighing him down, as looming as they looked at the start of the 2017 season as he suffered shock upsets that were compounded by injuries.

Understandably, it’s been the shifting of attention onward – and towards – Rafael Nadal that has helped Djokovic. The Spaniard’s bid for a never-before-attempted treble – of winning 10 titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros – has seemingly put the Serbian’s prospects on the backburner of the sport’s immediate priorities.

Known for his intuitiveness in the dozen-plus years he has been on the circuit, the 29-year-old is not oblivious to this change in tennis’ trends. Djokovic is mindful and receptive of the fact that it is happening in Monte Carlo, a place that is his de facto residential – and entrepreneurial – base.

Will the clock turn back for the gutsy Serbian?

 “It’s great to be in a place where I spend the most time when I’m not traveling,” Djokovic remarked in his pre-tournament media session in Monte Carlo. Adding to his statements, he further mentioned, “This is where I call home and where my training camp is, so I spend a lot of time on these courts. It’s just very comfortable here. The family, friends and food that I like and are part of my daily routine are here. It’s a very special week for me and I’ve had that feeling for many years.”

The biggest incentive for the Belgrade native to begin working on the timeline of his comeback at Monte Carlo, however, is that he has a clean slate – in literal terms – to plot it out. Not only for the week-long tournament, but also for the remainder of the two-month duration of the clay season in its entirety.

The years spanning his absoluteness on the court from 2014 until mid-2016 often made one wonder as to how Djokovic was able to constantly live up to the lofty standards of excellence he had set himself and what would be his recourse if he failed to hit his stride. In these last few months, while the 12-time Grand Slam champion has done his best to answer the questions about his struggling form and his motivations to make improvements on the same, it’s only now that his responses are striking the right chord.

Be it in him being the solitary player in the top-10 to play in the Davis Cup first round and quarter-final ties for his country as an intriguing way to draw out inspiration for his way forward in the ATP Tour. Or, be it playing in the doubles draw in the Monte Carlo Masters with Viktor Troicki, there’s shades of his not-so-distant glorifying past in Djokovic’s decision-making.

And, irrespective of whether he is able to get back to winning ways immediately, Djokovic couldn’t have put his intentions into words any better than stating, “I trust myself, my capabilities and the effort I’m putting into this process. I just have to believe that process is going to give me the results I want and [I am] hoping for. I have [directed] all my thoughts [into] this tournament now, and [I] hope this can be a new start to the season for me.”

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