Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Carlos Alcaraz during a men's semifinal at the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, May 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Djokovic playing his ‘best’ tennis ahead of French Open

MADRID — Novak Djokovic is optimistic about his game going into the French Open despite going another week without a title.

The top-ranked Djokovic is yet to win a trophy this season while trying to regain his best form after not being allowed to play in the Australian Open because he was not vaccinated for COVID-19.

Djokovic lost to young sensation Carlos Alcaraz in three sets in the semifinals of the Madrid Open on Saturday, when he was trying to make it to his second consecutive final after losing to Andrey Rublev in Serbia last month.

Despite the loss, Djokovic said he leaves Madrid feeling good about his preparations for the upcoming French Open, where he will defend his title.

“I definitely played very good tennis, I mean, the best that I have played this year,” Djokovic said. “Probably when the disappointment of losing this match passes, I will have a lot of positives to take away from this week.”

Djokovic said he felt he could have come away with the victory against the 19-year-old Alcaraz — one the hottest players on tour this season — if he had been “able to capitalize when it mattered” during the match of more than 3 1/2 hours at the “Caja Mágica” center court.

“I had a lot of chances,” he said. “It was a fantastic match. Great battle.”

The Madrid Open was only his fourth tournament of the year, and third on clay. He lost to 29th-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his first match in Monte Carlo in his only other Masters 1000 appearance so far.

Djokovic did not play in Indian Wells and Miami. He will carry an 8-4 record on the season into Rome this week, with one of those victories coming after Andy Murray withdrew from their third-round match in Madrid because of a stomach illness.

Djokovic had opened his campaign in the Spanish capital with a two-set win over Gael Monfils. He comfortably defeated Hubert Hurkacz in two sets in the quarterfinals.

The 34-year-old Djokovic said after the match against Monfils it was “his best performance of the year” considering he hadn’t played well and lacked rhythm in the few tournaments he had played.

Djokovic had reached the quarterfinals in the only other tournament he played this year, losing to 72nd-ranked Jiri Vesely in Dubai in February.

The goal now is preparing to do well in Roland Garros, where he will try to win his third French Open.

“I think it’s on the good path, definitely,” he said.