This is the big question ahead of the clay court season. Djokovic’s amazing record of only having lost one match in 2016 (retired against Feliciano Lopez in Dubai). Last year he only lost one match on clay with wins in Monte Carlo and Rome and the loss coming in the final against a Stan Wawrinka on fire.
So who can beat Djokovic in 2017? It’s actually highly possible that no one can, but I think that Roland Garros will be a mental hurdle from him to overcome. He looked sure for the victory last year, but couldn’t due to his opponent playing the tennis of his life. It will require something similar by the player on the other side of the net for them to be able to beat Djokovic.
I personally believe that, riding on his humongous confidence, Djokovic will win all his matches on clay this year and I’m not even a fan. But there are obviously a couple of players that can come in his way:
Stan Wawrinka – he did it last year and he’s very comfortable on clay. This year hasn’t been as gentle on Stan the Man, but being the defending champion you definitely have to keep in the mix.
Rafael Nadal – Is Rafa still the king of clay? He’s lost to Djokovic something like 8-9 times in a row and it hasn’t been close contests. Last year he lost in straight sets. It’s obvious that he CAN beat Djokovic on the courts where he’s had so much success, but not this year in my opinion.
Roger Federer – Federer has been the player closest to Djokovic the last couple of years, but it’s difficult to see him really challenging him in five sets on clay. It’s just too physical and “error-unfriendly”.
Dominic Thiem – The up-coming and hard-hitting Austrian is dangerous for anyone on the red dirt. If he has a good day, he can beat Djokovic. I actually think it’s more dangerous for Djokovic to play Thiem than Nadal these days.
I don’t really see anyone else who can threaten Djokovic on clay. It’s crazy in a way, but that’s how I feel. Maybe a clay specialist who’s having the day of his life, but even that seems unlikely. Djokovic deserves a Roland Garros title and it’s hard to see a better time for him than 2016 to get it.