ROME-Italian Open champion Novak Djokovic said getting back on court for a tournament so quickly after being disqualified at the U.S. Open for striking a line judge with a ball helped him move on from the incident.

The world number one came in for heavy criticism at Flushing Meadows earlier this month and the Serb said he spent several days processing what had happened. He returned to tournament play in Rome last week and captured his 36th ATP Masters crown in Monday’s final by beating Argentine Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3. “I did experience mentally some ups and downs in the first four-five days after that happened,” Djokovic told reporters. “Obviously I was in shock... but I moved on, I’ve never had an issue in my life to move on regardless of how difficult it is. “Obviously having a tournament a week after helped a lot because I really wanted to get on the court and get whatever trace of that out of the way.”

Djokovic, who has won 31 of his 32 matches this year, said he would have to raise his game further to challenge for the title at the French Open, which begins on Sunday. “I don’t think I played my best tennis to be honest, I don’t want to sound arrogant here. I am very satisfied and pleased to win a title. I know I still have a couple of gears,” he added. “Hopefully I’ll be able to raise that level for the French Open because that’s going to be necessary if I want to go deep in the tournament.”

Defending Roland Garros champion Rafa Nadal was stunned by Schwartzman in the Rome quarter-finals, but Djokovic expected the Spaniard to be firing on all cylinders in Paris. “He’s the player who has the highest chance of being in the final ... if it’s Roland Garros it’s Rafa you bet on,” he said.  

HALEP TAKING HER GAME TO A HIGHER PLANE AFTER SHUTDOWN

Simona Halep said she had found inner calm during tennis’s coronavius shutdown and that she had returned to the courts with more maturity and perspective on the game. Halep won the Dubai title before the WTA Tour’s suspension in March and lifted the Prague crown on its resumption, before claiming another crown in Rome on Monday to emerge as the front runner for the French Open Grand Slam, which begins on Sunday.

“The pandemic got me in a place that I really dreamed to be,” the world number two told the WTA Insider Podcast. “I’m more mature, more relaxed because I could see that the most difficult things are in life in general, not in sport. So being able to do this as good as I do in the last seven years, it’s a big thing.” 

Halep, 28, said her first Rome title, which she won when Karolina Pliskova retired due to injury, was the culmination of a dream she had since 2013, though she was a much different person now. “Back then I was fighting with everyone, with myself, the opponent, the ball, the racquet, the weather, the crowd, the team... so I have many on the list,” the Romanian added. “Now I tell myself I’m much better in that direction ... I have to fight with the opponent because I face an opponent.”

And while many have her as the favourite for a second title at Roland Garros after her 2018 triumph, Halep said she would take it one match at a time. “If people think I’m a favourite, I’m not thinking about that because every match it’s a battle and everyone wants to get it so badly,” she added. “So I’m focusing on my game like I did here, like I did in Prague. I’m not stressing about results.”