- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Once again, Novak Djokovic heads to the French Open knowing full well that a title at Roland Garros will complete a career Grand Slam — something only seven others have done.

He’s already come quite close to adding the Coupe des Mousquetaires to his trophy collection, finishing as the runner-up in three of the past four years.

“I know he’s looking for that title,” Stan Wawrinka said after beating Djokovic in the final last year. “I hope he will get one, one day, because he deserves one.”

This time, even more is at stake for Djokovic: Owner of a 21-match winning streak at Grand Slam tournaments, he arrives in Paris with a chance to become the first man in nearly half a century to claim four consecutive major championships.

Roger Federer never did it. Neither did Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras or Bjorn Borg.

The last man to hold the four most prestigious tennis titles simultaneously was Rod Laver, all the way back in 1969, when he pulled off a true Grand Slam, winning all in the same year.

By winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last season and the Australian Open in January, Djokovic is on the verge of what could be called a “Nole Slam,” a four-in-a-row feat a la the self-styled “Serena Slam” that Serena Williams has managed to do twice. Lately, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic has been nearly unbeatable on any surface and in any setting, not just at the Grand Slam events, going 119-9 overall since the start of 2015, a .930 winning percentage, while earning 16 titles.

In 2016, he is 37-3 with a tour-high five titles.

“My confidence level is high because of the matches — many matches — that I have won this year on [red clay] and all the other surfaces,” Djokovic said.

Still, adding a bit of intrigue, he is coming off a rare loss — and on red clay, no less — when the French Open begins on Sunday. That’s because Djokovic was beaten by Andy Murray in the Italian Open final, the last tuneup for both before the year’s second Grand Slam tournament.

Not that Djokovic sounded too worried by that result. He knew that he was sapped by a couple of lengthy, difficult victories against Nadal and Kei Nishikori.

“I don’t feel that I’m doubtful or I’m shaken up by this loss. Of course, you don’t like to lose,” Djokovic said. “I move on to Paris knowing that I’m going to approach it, hopefully, healthy and refreshed.”

A year ago, he beat Nadal in the French Open quarterfinals, only the second loss in 72 career matches at the tournament for the nine-time champion. That was part of a rough stretch for Nadal, who appears to be inching closer to finding his old “King of Clay” form.

It would surprise no one if he were around in the latter stages at Roland Garros. The same can be said of Murray, suddenly the owner of three titles on the slowest surface after winning his two majors on hard and grass courts.

“I never expected to be having the results I have been having on clay,” the second-ranked Murray said after defeating Djokovic in Rome.


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