Novak Djokovic is a man on a mission at the French Open – just do not mention Rafael Nadal.
With the seven-time champion still working his way up the rankings after his long lay-off, the main talking point at today’s men’s singles draw was which half Nadal would drop into.
The top half was the answer, meaning the Spaniard is scheduled to meet world number one Djokovic in the semi-finals in a repeat of last year’s final.
It certainly was not what Djokovic would have wanted, and the Serb took the unusual step of having it announced before his press conference that he would not be answering questions on the draw.
The French Open is the only grand slam Djokovic has not won and it is the title he craves more than any other.
After his superb seasons in 2011 and 2012, 2013 has been more up and down, with the high of a fourth Australian Open title followed by defeats against Juan Martin Del Potro and Tommy Haas on the American hard courts.
He began the clay-court season in perfect fashion by beating Nadal to win in Monte Carlo but losses to Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych in Madrid and Rome have followed.
Nadal swept to the title in both those events and goes into this tournament as the hot favourite, but Djokovic is bullish about his own form.
The 26-year-old said: “I worked on things that I needed to work on after those events. I sat down with my team and we analysed both tournaments and we analysed the situations we were in.
“Right now we hope all the work we have put in in the last few weeks will pay off. I went through a difficult time after the Davis Cup with an injury and trying to let that go from my mind.
“Right now I feel comfortable on the court. This is the tournament that is the number one priority of my year. This is where I want to win, and I’m going to go for it. I think my game is there and I’m very, very motivated.
“I won a grand slam. I won the Monte Carlo tournament. That was important for my confidence level. Prior to Roland Garros, that is the most important tournament on clay, and I won against the best player on this surface, Nadal.
“So that win against him can give me the necessary self-belief prior to this tournament.”
Nadal was also reluctant to look too far ahead but did at least touch on the draw, saying: “That’s what it is.
“If you’re not one and two of the world, that can happen and has happened. But the tournament starts from the first round, and I’m sure both of us, we know that we have a hard way before that.”
It will be Nadal’s first grand slam tournament since Wimbledon last year, when, following a second-round defeat by Lukas Rosol, he took seven months off with a knee problem.
His results since his comeback have been nothing short of astonishing, with six titles from eight tournaments and his only two defeats coming in finals.
Nadal, who meets Germany’s Daniel Brands in round one, has had the perfect build-up to his grand slam return with three successive tournament victories - not that he sees it that way.
The Spaniard said: “It’s true that the grand slams are special tournaments. But, for me, winning Barcelona, winning Madrid, winning Rome means a lot. I don’t treat these tournaments like preparation for Roland Garros, they are serious for me.
“What makes me really happy is to be healthy and be competitive everywhere, every week.
“If you ask me if I could win one grand slam during the whole year or win six tournaments like I already did, I will choose to win six tournaments.
“Because when you win a grand slam you are happy one week or two weeks. When you are winning tournaments you are having the chance to be happy and you feel that you are doing the right things during the rest of the time.
“Sure, Roland Garros is going to mean a lot to me forever. It is my favourite. But I don’t play with more passion here than I did in Rome last week. I try my best because I cannot play with more.”
Second seed Roger Federer, who is scheduled to meet qualifiers in the first two rounds, and David Ferrer are the top seeds in the bottom half of the draw with Andy Murray absent due to injury.