Novak Djokovic steps up his clay court preparations with familiar hitting partner

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic with Holger Rune in Monte-Carlo
Novak Djokovic with Holger Rune in Monte-Carlo

Novak Djokovic is preparing to play his first clay court tournament of 2024 and he has continued a tradition with a familiar practice partner at the Monte-Carlo Country Club.

Djokovic has not played a match since opting to skip the Miami Open to spend more time with his family, but he is clearly keen to get back to winning ways as he looks to win his first Monte-Carlo Masters title since 2015.

The Serbian maestro has struggled to find his best form in Monte-Carlos in recent years, with his hopes of success 12 months ago ended by Italian Lorenzo Musetti in a shock last-16 defeat.

He found his clay court form in time to win the French Open at Roland-Garros last June and that will be the target for Djokovic as he aims to win Grand Slam No 25.

The world No 1 will also be keen to make progress in Monte-Carlo as he aims to hang onto his ranking, with the in-form Jannik Sinner now closing in on a chance to end Djokovic’s reign as the king of men’s tennis.

Sinner has confirmed he will start practicing on clay courts this Thursday, but Djokovic has a head start on him as he has been getting the clay under his feet in Monte-Carlo with fellow top ten player Holger Rune.

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These two players have made a habit of practising together ahead of this tournament in recent years, with Rune posting an image to revive memories of their hitting sessions in recent years.

Rune beat Djokovic on a clay court at the Rome Masters last year, so the Norwegian has proved he can trouble the best in the game on this surface.

Yet he has struggled for form and fitness so far in 2024 and will be hoping that trend can turn around on a surface he clearly enjoys playing on.

As for Djokovic, all eyes will be on how the Serbian legend responds following the news that he has split with his coach Goran Ivanisevic.

Djokovic has hinted he may not replace the Croatian in his team as he may look to play the clay court season without a full-time coach.

“I still don’t have a clear idea who a new coach would be, or whether there will be one at all,” said Djokovic when he responded to questions about his next coach.

“I’ve had coaches since I was a kid, now I am trying to feel by myself what I need, what I feel most comfortable with. You will be informed in case someone joins the team.”

Djokovic may feel he doesn’t need a full-time coach for this phase of his career, but question marks will be asked about that decision if he fails to find his spark on clay courts in Monte-Carlo.

The world No 1 will also be keen to find form quickly as his position at the top of the ATP Rankings is now under threat from the in-form Jannik Sinner, yet that battle is no longer his primary focus.

Sinner has confirmed he will not start his clay court preparations until next Thursday, as he looks to adapt from Miami hard courts to the red dirt in Monte-Carlo in double quick time and he might find he is up against a re-energised world No 1 next week.

Djokovic has made it clear that he is keen to push for more Grand Slam titles before he walks away from the game and he will need to get some matches under his belt on clay over the course of the next month to ensure he is playing at his best level by the time he gets to Roland-Garros to start his defence of the French Open.