Novak Djokovic, about to cede the world No.1 throne to Carlos Alcaraz, was eliminated from the Masters 1000 in Rome, of which he was title holder, in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, 6-2, 4-6, 6 -2 by another young nugget, the Dane Holger Rune, ten days from Roland-Garros.
Djokovic, crowned at the Australian Open in January but less successful since, will not arrive in Paris with the ideal preparation, since in three tournaments on clay in 2023, he has accumulated only five victories for three defeats .
At best, he won three matches in a row on ocher, in the Italian capital precisely, where he climbed to the quarter-finals. In Monte-Carlo and Banja Luka (Bosnia) before, he lost in his second match, again bothered by his right elbow which had made him suffer several years ago. In the meantime, he had preferred to zap Madrid.
Faced with Rune on Wednesday, under the persistent Roman drizzle, he was a shadow of himself in the first set (35 unforced errors in total during the match) and again called the doctor, without anyone knowing precisely for what reason.
But it takes more to instill doubt in the mind of the Serb with 22 Grand Slam trophies – like Rafael Nadal.
Is he still confident for Roland-Garros?
“Yes”, says, laconic but smiling, the 35-year-old Serb.
What does he still need in view of the Parisian Grand Slam?
“You’re welcome, replies Djokovic. Well, just to train and prepare for the most important tournament of the season on clay. I know that I can play better. I really want to work on the different aspects of my game, on a physical level, to arrive, I hope, at 100%, that is the objective.”
“I know I always have my chance in the Grand Slam, best of five sets, against anyone, on any surface,” he says confidently.
In the meantime, with Nadal, the absolute master of the place, who, if he comes to Paris, will do so without the slightest match on ocher in his legs in 2023, and Djokovic without a title and with little rhythm, we say to ourselves that the he 2023 edition of Roland-Garros promises to be the most open for twenty years.
What does Djokovic think?
“It depends if Nadal plays or not, he smiles. But, with him, of course Alcaraz, Rune, these guys are among the main favorites for the title”, he believes.
Rune wants a Grand Slam from 2023
“It’s maybe more open than other years, it’s interesting, it makes things more fun. I want to win a Grand Slam this year, I’ve said it before and I’m sticking to it, obviously I hope succeed at Roland-Garros”, dares Rune.
At just 20 years old, the world No.7 obtained his second victory in a row against Djokovic, after that in the final of the Masters 1000 in Paris in November. For a place in the final, he will face the world No.4 Casper Ruud winner of the Argentinian Francisco Cerundolo (31st) 7-6, 6-4.
Once “Nole” returned to a set everywhere after the resumption after a long interruption by the rain, the young Dane took control of the game with authority, with a double break to escape 4-0. Serving to win the match, he dismissed a break point before concluding after 2h18 min of play.
“I like to challenge him. He’s a great player to face because it’s a big challenge for me, which I enjoy a lot because I can really see what I need to improve. If it works against Novak, it works almost against everyone”, smiles the young Scandinavian.
In the women’s draw, the Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, winner of Roland-Garros in 2017, invited herself into the last four 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 at the expense of the Spaniard Paula Badosa (35th). The world N.1 Iga Swiatek plays her quarter-final in the evening.