PARIS (Reuters) - The so-called Big Four of men's tennis is now the Big Five according to long-standing member of the elite Novak Djokovic, but Stanislas Wawrinka is not so sure.
Djokovic says Australian Open champion Wawrinka is now the real deal at grand slams and can be talked about as a potential winner of the French Open which starts on Sunday.
Wawrinka's victory over Rafael Nadal in Melbourne added his name to the grand slam winners' list that has been dominated by Nadal, Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray in recent years and he starts in Paris as third seed.
After several seasons of steady improvement Swiss Wawrinka's breakthrough title in Australia has led to predictions that he can go on and add more major silverware to his collection.
"He deserves to be considered as one of the favorites to win the title because of the fact that he had one of the best results of all the players this year," world number two Djokovic told reporters at Roland Garros on Friday.
"He won his first grand slam; he won the Monte Carlo tournament in great fashion winning against some top players.
"He has proved to everybody that he is one of the contenders for grand slam titles. Now from the mental perspective it's going to be more familiar or easier for him to approach grand slams because he knows how and what it takes to win it.
"He always had a game that he could hurt any player on any surface, but it was just a matter of his self‑belief. Now, mentally he's got stronger and more experienced in the big matches. You can see the reflection in the results he has."
Wawrinka played down suggestions that he is a favorite for the French Open, however.
"The favorites are Nadal and Djokovic. They are far above the rest," Wawrinka told reporters.
"You can tell me what you want. It's always going to be the case. When they're on the courts, nobody else can beat them.
"I'll be with Rog (Federer), just after them. I'm one of the favorites, but I wouldn't say I'm the top favorite. I'm so far from Nadal, so far from Djokovic."
Djokovic is brimming with confidence after beating Nadal in the Italian open final on clay - his fourth consecutive victory over the Spaniard who is bidding for a ninth French Open crown.
Some are predicting that this could be the year he finally completes his grand slam collection after losing to Nadal in a semi-final epic last year and the final in 2012.
"I have played some epic matches against him, especially the one last year in the semi-finals," Djokovic said. "We went the distance. I think it was 10‑8 in the fifth.
"Even though it was a tough loss, I was putting a lot of emotional effort into winning this event last year, I still take the positives from that tournament.
"Knowing that I have gotten closer and closer each year to the title gives me enough reason to be confident for the start of this year. Winning against Nadal on clay is something that doesn't happen every day so (Rome) definitely helps my confidence, my self‑belief."
"And I'm healthy and obviously very motivated and inspired to play my best tennis here," added Djokovic who has fully recovered from the wrist injury that prevented him from playing at the Madrid Masters.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)