Novak Djokovic - Roland Garros 2022

Novak Djokovic reveals ‘player to beat’ ahead of Roland Garros

Novak Djokovic has revealed who he believes is the best player on clay at the moment, as he also gave fans an update on his fitness after there was concern about his elbow.

Djokovic is returning to the ATP tour in Rome, following his withdrawal from the Madrid Open after struggling in his first two clay court tournaments with an elbow injury that he had surgery on back in 2018.

Speaking ahead of his first match in the Italian capital, Djokovic revealed who he believes are the favourites ahead of Roland Garros, “He [Carlos Alcaraz] has been playing some very impressive tennis.”

Djokovic continued, “A great level. He’s the player to beat on this surface, no doubt. Of course, it depends if [Rafael] Nadal is going to play in French Open or not.”

“But Alcaraz is one of the top favourites without any dilemma. He’s been playing fantastic tennis. We faced each other only once last year in Madrid.”

Despite being the ATP No.1 and No.2 for the majority of the year, this is the first time that Djokovic and Alcaraz have been in the same draw in 2023.

Alcaraz won their only previous meeting at the Madrid Open last year, and Djokovic admitted he would ‘love’ to play the US Open champion in the final of the Italian Open.

“If we get a chance to face each other here, would be in finals. I think we would both love to play in the finals,” revealed Djokovic. “It is strange that we haven’t been in the same draw since the beginning of the season. Due to the circumstances on both sides, that didn’t happen.”

As defending champion in Rome, Djokovic cannot gain any points this week and will therefore lose his spot at No.1 to Alcaraz who is playing the tournament for the first time.

However, the 22-time Grand Slam champion claims the Spaniard deserves to be at the top of the rankings, “He’s going to be No. 1 after this tournament whatever happens. Deservedly so.”

Djokovic then went onto speak about his elbow, that was heavily strapped when he was playing in Monte Carlo and Banja Luka.

“It’s all good, it’s all good,” said the 35-year-old. “There are always some things here and there that bother you at this level. It’s normal. When you’re not 20-25 anymore, you experience that a bit more than what used to be the case.”

“I feel good. Historically throughout my career, Rome has been a very nice tournament for me, I had success in it many times, got to finals.”

Djokovic added, “It’s my most successful clay-court event. Coming into the French Open it can be a great springboard for what’s coming up in Paris where I want to be at my best.”

Novak Djokovic on clay in 2023

Djokovic is the only person to beat Rafael Nadal more than once at Roland Garros, but he has not fared well on the dirt so far this season.

Here are the Serb’s results on the clay so far this year:

Novak Djokovic’s clay win-loss record in 2023: 2-2 (50%)

Monte Carlo 

  • Djokovic beat Ivan Gakhov, 7-6(5) 6-2
  • Lorenzo Musetti beat Djokovic, 4-6 7-5 6-4

Banja Luka

  • Djokovic beat Luca Van Assche, 6(4)-7 6-3 6-2
  • Dusan Lajovic beat Djokovic, 6-4 7-6(6) 

Djokovic will be hoping for an upturn in results, as he returns to the tournament where he is a six-time champion.

After receiving a bye to the second round, Djokovic will play Tomas Martin Etcheverry later today in the Italian Open with the Argentine revealing that he has idolised the No.1 over the years.

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.