After sitting on the sidelines to watch 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz win his fourth title of the year in Madrid, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is back in the mix to defend his 2022 Rome title.
Clay-court God Rafael Nadal remains out with no word on whether he’ll play the French Open later this month. Djokovic and Nadal have won the Italian Open 16 of the last 18 years. Nadal accounted for 10 of those titles, and Djoker finished runner-up in six. With Rafa out, is Djokovic a shoo-in? Let’s break it down.
Realistically, there are only two players that can be considered high probability to win, Djokovic and Alcaraz. Rome conditions are slower than Madrid, more similar to Roland Garros, which is why Rafa has been so dominant in the Italian Open the past two decades. The Rome surface favors the heavy top spin ball or players like Djokovic who have the reach and versatility to contest every shot.
Alcaraz has it all. Take the best shots from The Big 3 and put them into one player and out comes Alcaraz. His drop shot is a thing of beauty and works wonders on a slow clay court surface. The ball just dies and opponents have no answer.
The problem with backing Alcaraz: The Spaniard may be a youthful 20 years old, but he’s spent a lot of time on court. He won back-to-back tournaments in Barcelona and Madrid after making the semifinal in Miami, where he developed a hand injury that forced him to miss the Monte-Carlo Masters. He looks mighty healthy now but Carlitos has put on the miles over these last few weeks.
Plus, he’s never played in Rome. Every clay court surface requires time to adjust and he could face one of the better clay court opponents right out of the gate in his first match, Albert Ramos-Vinolas. These two went a full five sets in last year’s French Open, with Alcaraz sneaking out a 6-4 fifth-set win. Ramos on clay is a threat, especially in the early rounds.
Djokovic is 64-10 in Rome, winning six titles. Of his 10 losses, six were against Nadal, including the 2021 final. Djoker is 17-3 on the year, losing two of his last three matches, the Round of 16 in Monte-Carlo to Lorenzo Musetti and the quarterfinal in Banja Luka to Dusan Lajovic in straight sets.
The World No. 1 opted to miss Madrid in order to recover from an elbow injury. The good news: Djoker was practicing in Rome without a sleeve. That’s some positivity for a player who’s very comfortable at this tournament. If he is in full health, there are still some things to combat. One being fatigue. In his two recent losses, Djokovic appeared to lack the fitness to win a title.
He’s still the best returner in the world, and still considered top two in any tournament he plays. However, Djokovic has played only 20 matches this year compared to someone like Alcaraz, who has played over 30. That lack of match play can interrupt his path to the final. Plus, Djokovic has a bit of a tough draw, possibly facing Stan Wawrinka in the second round, young gun Holger Rune in the quarterfinal and then maybe Jannik Sinner in the semifinal. Returning from injury, with a possible lack of stamina, this could be a rough go at title number seven.
You can look at Djokovic’s draw in one of two ways. One, that he will be tried and tested in each round, preparing him for a finals match in which he’s warmed up and ready to go. Or, that he could possibly fall and as bettors, we consider who he could fall to. Enter Jannik Sinner.—Agencies