PARIS (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic is right where he wants to be and must be considered a title contender at the French Open, three-times former champion Mats Wilander said on Saturday.
The Serbian has stayed under the radar so far after coming in at his lowest seeding at Roland Garros since 2006.
There were a few worrying moments for the 20th seed against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round — prompting some Djokovic racket smashing — but Wilander believes the 31-year-old is looking more like his old self.
“Novak has already put himself in contention to be honest,” Wilander, who presents Eurosport’s flagship show Game, Set and Mats during the tournament, told Reuters.
“There is no turning back now for Novak. With each match there is more attention and the opponent gets better and better.
“When he plays against guys he should not lose to he couldn’t get that fired up. Against Bautista Agut he knew he could lose and the scoreboard got the fire burning.”
Djokovic’s last grand-slam title, his 12th, came two years ago in Paris. The past 12 months have been the most trying of his career with an elbow injury hampering his form.
He has not lost to Sunday’s opponent Fernando Verdasco since 2010, although they have not played on clay, the Spaniard’s best surface, since.
“Djokovic will know that it’s a match he could lose but I think we are seeing a more determined Djokovic,” Wilander said.
“If he beats Verdasco then you have to start talking about Djokovic because he’s beaten Nadal enough times and has gone to enough Grand Slam finals.
“(The second week of Grand Slams) scare him less than perhaps losing in the early rounds against lower-ranked players. That’s scary when you’ve been a superstar.”
While Djokovic pursues a 13th Grand Slam title, 23-year-old American Madison Keys is still searching for number one.
Wilander believes it is only a matter of time before she delivers, having fallen at the final hurdle at the U.S. Open.
Keys faces unheralded Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu on Sunday with a quarter-final place up for grabs.
“I think with Keys it’s a matter of time before she pulls it together for two weeks,” he said.
“She has got a huge game and big forehand and serve so Keys is always one of those ones that can win it. For Keys this is a little bit of an opening and I think she might take full advantage of (Buzarnescu beating fourth seed Elina Svitolina).
“The lowest level of how she can play is getting better and better and better and she is going to be a top three or four in the world with a slam under her belt.”
Editing by Clare Fallon