Novak Djokovic insists it is not impossible to beat Rafael Nadal on clay but feels it needs special and consistent efforts to get the better of the nine-time French Open champion in a five-set encounter.
Djokovic was bidding to complete his Career Slam at the Roland Garros this year, after defeating the man from Mallorca in four out of their last eight meetings. However, it proved to be easier said than done for the Serb, who has never won a best-of-five match against Nadal on clay, in six attempts.
"It's not impossible, but it's very, very difficult to stay with Rafa on this court throughout the whole match on the highest level of performance," Djokovic pointed out.
Nadal ousted Djokovic in the final to clinch his record-extending ninth French Open title. The 14-time major winner stretched his unbeaten run in Roland Garros to 35 matches, and he has only lost once (to Robin Soderling) in the French capital in 67 outings.
Djokovic got the better of Nadal in the Rome Masters final, raising hopes of finally ending the Spaniard's domination on the red clay of Paris, but the top seed shifted momentum, after losing the opening set, to win next three sets to clinch his 14th Grand Slam.
"It's normal that you have ups and downs," Djokovic said. "I was just hoping that in the fourth I would be able to come back. I started feeling a little bit better, but I wasn't managing to bring my A game when it was most needed in the end of the fourth. Definitely it's not easy, best of five, to play against him in these conditions."
Djokovic struggled in the hot and humid conditions at the centre court and looked exhausted, after going down in the crucial second set. The 27-year-old lacked consistence in the match, fell 3-0 behind in the third set and eventually went down.
The Belgrade-born star did manage to rally back, when he levelled the fourth set 4-4, from a 2-4 deficit, but could not capitalise on his chances and faced the match point.
Djokovic, serving on Nadal's match point, committed a double fault, just like in the 2012 final when he was defeated in a five-set thriller. He was interrupted when two spectators shouted during his second serve but the six-time major winner blamed no one.
"When I play against Rafa, it's always an exciting match for us to play and for the crowd to see, so they get also involved in the match," Djokovic stressed. "At the end of the day, it's very emotional. A lot of tension going on on the court. You can feel that. I cannot find excuses in the crowd. I cannot blame anybody."
"In the fourth set I started to feel a little bit better, but then just on the crucial points he played better. I wasn't playing at the level that I wanted, especially in the second part of the match. Congratulations to him. He was a better player in the crucial moments. Of course it's disappointing for me, but life goes on. It's not the first time or last time I lost a match."