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Djokovic Still Has Things to Prove in Paris, McEnroe Says

Novak Djokovic has won 37 matches to start the year, including the Australian Open title, and earlier this month beat Nadal in the finals of the two clay court events in Rome and Madrid. Photographer: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic has won 37 matches to start the year, including the Australian Open title, and earlier this month beat Nadal in the finals of the two clay court events in Rome and Madrid. Photographer: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- Novak Djokovic, who’s beaten top-ranked Rafael Nadal in the finals of their last two clay-court tournaments, still can’t be considered the outright favorite for the French Open, seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe said.

Djokovic has won 37 matches to start the year, including the Australian Open title, and earlier this month beat Nadal in the finals of the clay-court events in Rome and Madrid. The Serb had also defeated Nadal twice in hard-court finals, in Indian Wells and Miami, earlier in the season. Djokovic is closing in on McEnroe’s 1984 record of 42 straight wins to start a year.

Still, Nadal’s five titles on the clay courts of Roland Garros mean Djokovic has a point to prove in a five-set match on the Spaniard’s favorite surface, McEnroe said.

Second-ranked Djokovic has “earned the right to be co-favorite,” McEnroe said in a conference call with reporters. “But anytime you’ve won it five times like Nadal has, and are still in or very close to your absolute prime, and you’re still incredibly difficult to beat... His record at the French Open is phenomenal.”

Nadal hadn’t lost a match at Roland Garros until a knee injury turned around a match with Sweden’s Robin Soderling in the 2009 fourth round. Nadal missed several months before returning and he won his fifth French Open title last year.

The left-handed Spaniard is the 8-11 favorite to win the French Open at U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc, meaning a successful $11 bet would return $8 plus the original stake. Djokovic is the second-favorite at 11-8, while Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro are all at 14-1.

‘Mixed Emotions’

McEnroe, who’s playing in the Aegon Masters senior tour at London’s Royal Albert Hall in December, said he has “mixed emotions” about Djokovic closing in on his win streak. The 23-year-old can tie the American’s mark by reaching the semifinals of the French Open, and will surpass Nadal for the No. 1 ranking of the ATP World Tour if he makes the final in Paris, even if Nadal wins the event.

“I’ve probably lost any record that I had,” McEnroe said. “But at the same time, there has been a nice boost and shot in the arm for our sport so I am actually quite excited about the timing of this: that he could break my record to the start of the year at the French Open.”

To see today’s top sports stories, see: {ISPO <GO>}
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To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Rossingh at the London sports desk at drossingh@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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