ROME -- The red clay courts of the Italian Open are a bit of heaven for Novak Djokovic after a week on the experimental blue surface in Madrid.
The top-ranked Djokovic was one of several top players who were highly critical of the blue clay tested at the Madrid Open, especially after he lost to fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic in the quarterfinals.
"It feels great," Djokovic said Sunday. "After that blue clay, this clay seems like paradise."
"The most basic thing you have in our sport -- the most important -- is the movement," Djokovic said. "If you cannot be in balance for the ball, and to hit the ball, then everything becomes twice as difficult. That's the biggest difference. Here you can actually be on the ball and slide well, where there you were slipping and falling down."
Rome is the last major warm-up before the French Open begins in two weeks, and winning Roland Garros is a "top priority" for Djokovic after winning every other Grand Slam beside Paris last year.
But in addition to dealing with the blue clay, Djokovic also had to play while mourning the death of his grandfather in Monte Carlo a few weeks ago, losing a lopsided final to Rafael Nadal.
"I don't think my preparation for Roland Garros has been disturbed in any way because I feel like I've practiced very hard the last five weeks," Djokovic said. "Right now I'm just thinking about Rome."
Djokovic, who beat Nadal in last year's Rome final, could face Australian teenager Bernard Tomic in his opening match this year.
First-round play at the Foro Italico began Sunday with former French Open winner Juan Carlos Ferrero beating Kevin Anderson of South Africa 6-4, 7-5. Also, Italian wild card Paolo Lorenzi held off Russian veteran Nikolay Davydenko 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
The top eight seeds have first-round byes.