World number one Novak Djokovic said Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz is the man to beat on clay and is one of the top title contenders for the French Open.
Alcaraz has won back-to-back claycourt titles in Barcelona and Madrid after beginning an injury-hit season with the Buenos Aires crown and is poised to leapfrog Djokovic into top spot in the rankings after the ongoing Italian Open.
Rafa Nadal, a 14-time champion at Roland Garros, has been dealing with a hip injury he suffered at the Australian Open in January and fears are growing the Spaniard may miss the Paris Grand Slam.
Djokovic, 35, told reporters in Rome that Alcaraz was worthy of the number one ranking.
“He’s going to be number one after this tournament whatever happens. Deservedly so,” he added. “He has been playing some very impressive tennis, a great level. He’s the player to beat on this surface, no doubt.
“Of course, it depends on if Nadal is going to play in the French Open or not. But Alcaraz is one of the top favourites without any dilemma.”
Djokovic, who skipped the American hardcourt swing as he was unvaccinated for COVID-19, said he hoped to reignite his rivalry with U.S. Open champion Alcaraz with a potential final meeting on the cards in Rome.
“We faced each other only once last year in Madrid,” said Djokovic, who lost that match in three sets. “If we get a chance to face each other here, it would be in the final. I think we would both love to play in the final.”
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The 22-times Grand Slam champion, who plays Tomas Martin Etcheverry later on Friday, said he had overcome a right elbow problem that kept him out of Madrid.
“It’s all good. There’s always some things here and there that bother you at this level. It’s normal,” Djokovic said.
“When you’re not 25 anymore, I guess you experience that a bit more than what used to be the case. It takes a bit more time to recover.”