More Sports / Tennis

Djokovic starts clay season with win

AP

Even when it comes to foreign languages skills, Novak Djokovic wants to be the best.

After strolling into the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters with a 6-1, 6-4 win over qualifier Albert Ramos-Vinolas, the top-ranked Serb told spectators in fluent French how pleased he was with his first win on clay this season.

Djokovic’s next big goal is to win the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament missing from his already impressive collection.

Mastering another foreign language is on his list, too.

“French is a very global language, I wanted to know it,” Djokovic said Tuesday — in English — during his post-match news conference. “Again, I am still not content with where my level of knowledge of French is, but it’s getting there, even though I don’t get the grammar right.”

Djokovic’s desire to excel in French speaks volumes about his devouring ambition. At 27, the eight-time major champion already has 51 titles to his name and has been at the top of the rankings for 142 weeks, one more than Rafael Nadal.

According to his friend Janko Tipsarevic, Djokovic’s appetite for victory is infinite.

“If you ask me personally, his goal, even though it seems far from now, is to pass (Roger) Federer,” Tipsarevic told the ATP website. “I think that his goal is to be the best player of all time.”

Djokovic is first attempting to dethrone Nadal, the “King of Clay.”

The Serb is off to his best start since 2011 and hopes he can carry his hardcourt form into the clay season, which will climax at Roland Garros, where Nadal has won a record nine times. But the Spaniard’s current struggles might help Djokovic take him off his perch.

The French Open starts on May 24.

Japan readies for playoff

KYODO

Kurumi Nara was in a confident mood as Japan prepared to take on Belarus in their Fed Cup World Group II playoff starting on Saturday.

Japan and Belarus face off after both teams cruised through their respective groups. Japan blasted through the Asia-Oceania Zone Group I competition in February in Guangzhou, China, without losing a single match.

Belarus, led by former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, dropped just one match en route to winning the Europe-Africa Group I.

The playoff will be the second meeting between the two countries, with Belarus defeating Japan 2-0 in 1999 in a World Group qualifying playoff.

“We will go aggressive,” Nara, at world No. 54 Japan’s top-ranked player, told a press conference on Wednesday at Ariake Colosseum. “We are at home and I think we have a chance.”

Japan coach Yuka Yoshida said, “It will be a tough battle. I want the team to show a united front.”

Azarenka, currently ranked 32nd in the world said, “We have come here with the aim of winning and hopefully we will get a good result.”

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5