Novak Djokovic said on Monday that he is aiming to be “as ready as I can be” for the French Open as he prepares for just his third tournament of the season in Belgrade this week.
The world number one was deported from Australia ahead of the Australian Open in January over his Covid vaccination status, before also missing Indian Wells and the Miami Open in the United States.
In the Serbian star’s absence, Rafael Nadal won a record 21st Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne, moving out of a tie with Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Djokovic will be hoping to match his great rival’s tally at the French Open, which begins on May 22.
“Roland Garros is the quintessential clay-court tournament and I’m partly already there in my thoughts, in terms of preparation and everything I’m doing at the moment to get there as ready as I can be,” Djokovic told reporters in Belgrade.
The 34-year-old also said he was planning to play in the Madrid Masters and the Italian Open ahead of Roland Garros.
“My current plans include Madrid and Rome,” he added.
“It depends, really, on my result here and the shape I’m in. We’ll decide then.”
Djokovic lost in his opening match of the Monte Carlo Masters last week to eventual runner-up Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, after a quarter-final exit in Dubai in February.
“I was not fully ready for the tournament in Monte Carlo and I knew that before the tournament started,” he said.
“However, I need match practice and this is the surface (clay) that requires a lot of time spent on the court during training sessions, and even more during matches.
“I hope to play more matches in Belgrade than in Monte Carlo.”
Djokovic won an ATP event in the Serbian capital last season, the week before the start of the French Open, which he won for the second time despite trailing Stefanos Tsitsipas by two sets in the final.
“I had never before played a tournament in the week ahead of Roland Garros but last year I decided to do just that.
“Because it was Belgrade and I needed the feeling that the audience is the wind beneath my wings. It came true, I won the tournament, and it turned out I made a good decision ahead of the French Open.”
Top seed Djokovic will face a compatriot when he enters the tournament in the second round – either Laslo Djere or Hamad Medjedovic.
He could face former US Open champion and two-time French Open finalist Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals, as the Austrian plays his first ATP event since last June after a series of injury setbacks.