Defending champion Novak Djokovic claims he would not be shocked to see Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka defy their recent clay court struggles and compete at a "really high level" at the upcoming 2017 French Open. Last year's beaten finalist and the 2015 winner head to Roland Garros short on confidence having both recently floundered on the red dust.
After bowing out of the hard court season with a shock defeat to Vasek Pospisil at Indian Wells, Murray took time to recuperate from a lingering elbow injury. He was beaten in the second round by Albert Ramos-Vinolas on his return at the Monte-Carlo Masters, although he did make the semi-finals in Barcelona before being eliminated by Dominic Thiem.
Twenty-year-old Borna Coric then defeated him in straight sets in Madrid and the world number one was most recently shocked by Fabio Fognini in his opening match at the Italian Open.
Wawrinka, bested by Murray in the semi-finals of the French Open in 2016, has also failed to impress on clay this year. The third-ranked Swiss fell to Pablo Cuevas in Monte Carlo and was upset by Benoit Paire in Madrid. He avenged that latter loss in Rome earlier this week but proved no match for towering American John Isner, who won their third-round duel 7-6, 6-4.
Despite those issues, Djokovic expects both players to raise their respective games for the second major of the year.
"Some top players come out and play their best when it's most needed, which is grand slams," the improving 12-time Grand Slam winner was quoted as saying by Reuters after beating Roberto Bautista Agut at the Foro Italico."I wouldn't be surprised to see Wawrinka or Murray playing at a really high level in Paris, because I guess they are aiming to do that.
"And it's best of five and played every second day, which allows you to have more time to rest and recover, whereas in these tournaments... you play day after day after day, and it's very intense for the body and for the mind and so forth."
For so long the one title had eluded him, Djokovic triumphed at the French Open 12 months ago and in doing so completed a career Grand Slam and also became the first male singles player to hold all four major titles at the same time since Rod Laver in 1969. His problems since have been well-documented and earlier this month the Serbian parted company with the remaining members of his coaching and support team as part of a course of "shock therapy" that he hopes will help him to rediscover a winning spark on the court.
After announcing that surprise decision, Djokovic made it through to the semi-finals of the Madrid Open where he lost to Rafael Nadal. He remains on course for another last-four meeting with the King of Clay, providing the duo are able to see off the challenges of Juan Martin Del Potro and Thiem.