The world No. 1 is a man with a lot on his plate. Novak Djokovic is trying to win his first French Open, complete his collection of all four majors and move up yet another rung on the list of all-time Grand Slam champions. And as usual, he's not backing away from his ambitions.
"This is the tournament that is the No. 1 priority of my year, of my season," he said last week, without prompting. "This is where I want to win, and I'm going to go for it. I think my game is there, and I'm very, very motivated.
"But as I said, you know, it's a long tournament. I will take it step by step and see how far I can go."
A title in Paris would make him just the eighth man to win all four majors, though Djokovic said that was less important than actually winning the tournament itself. "I would be very honored to be part of that small, small group of players that manage to win all four Grand Slams," he said. "But, you know, there is so much to this tournament. It means a lot."
With his seventh Grand Slam title, Djokovic would tie several other players with that total (John McEnroe and Mats Wilander among them), moving him into a tie for No. 13 on the all-time list. Arguably, it would also move him from being the challenger of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's hegemony to being among them, that type of all-time great himself. Some would say he is already there, others that he would still be too far behind Nadal's 11 major titles and Federer's 17, but either way, it would be new and significant territory.
The task would be difficult enough without Nadal in the draw -- let alone in the same half of the draw. The two met in the final last year, but this time, with Nadal seeded No. 3 after last year's injury absence, they ended up being pitted for the semifinal.
Before Djokovic's pretournament news conference, an announcement was made that he did not want to know about the draw or who was in which half, requesting questions only on his first-round match against David Goffin. That will be hard to keep up as the two start to play on the same days and it is increasingly obvious that they are in the same half. Should they get there, Djokovic will be able to draw on his win in their only previous meeting this year, on the clay courts of Monte Carlo. Conditions there are similar to those at Roland Garros, and Djokovic managed to come through some ankle troubles early and finish with a stellar performance against a then still unsure Nadal.
Even before a rematch, Djokovic is taking confidence from that victory. "That win against him can give me that necessary mental belief, self-belief, prior to this tournament," he said. "Winning against Nadal on clay is not something that happens every day, you know. It's a big challenge."
Just why does a world No. 1 and reigning Australian Open champion need to increase his morale? Because of what happened in between -- after Australia, Djokovic fell early at both hard-court Masters going into Monte Carlo and the two clay Masters that followed. The latter two, in Madrid and Rome, were particularly aggravating for the Serb.
In Madrid, Djokovic went out against talented 21-year-old Grigor Dimitrov in an emotional three-hour thriller in which he retwisted the ankle he injured in Davis Cup, let a cramping opponent wriggle free and got frequently booed by the crowd for no good reason.
Then, just when he seemed to be setting things right, going up 6-2, 5-2 against Tomas Berdych in the Rome quarterfinals, he somehow let the match get away -- a classic example of snatching defeat from victory's jaws.
"I forgot about it," Djokovic said of those tough weeks. "I worked on things that I needed to work on after those events. I sat down with my team and we analyzed both tournaments and we analyzed the situations we were in and circumstances. Right now we hope that all the work that we have put in in last few weeks will pay off, you know."
As a result, he will be hoping to make a good start against Goffin, who reached the fourth round last year but has won consecutive ATP matches just once this year. A rematch with Dimitrov could come in the third round and against Miami conqueror Tommy Haas in the fourth, though Djokovic will have a bigger edge in a best-of-five match.
The biggest rematch would come against Nadal in the semifinals, the one Djokovic is trying not to think about -- even as he tries not to forget their last one.
Djokovic isn't playing down the importance of this tournament for him. But now he has to play up to it.