Novak Djokovic ‘feels good’ after injury, hails Carlos Alcaraz as ‘man to beat’ | Tennis News

ROME: Novak Djokovic said on Thursday that Carlos Alcaraz is the man to beat Italian Openbut reassured fans that he “feels good” after his recent elbow injury.
Top-seeded Djokovic enters the clay-court tournament, where he’s been a six-time champion, set to lose the No. 1 spot in the world rankings to Alcaraz.
The flamboyant Spaniard, fresh off back-to-back clay titles in Barcelona and Madrid, only needs to play one match in the Italian capital to return to the top before the French Open which begins later this month.
“He’s going to be number one after this tournament and if that happens it will be rightfully so. He’s playing very impressive tennis, a good level. He is undoubtedly the player to beat on this surface,” said Djokovic, who begins his title defense against Argentinian Tomas Etcheverry on Friday.
Djokovic won a record 22nd Grand Slam at the Australian Open in January but missed the American hard-court swing in March due to his refusal to take a Covid shot.
The 35-year-old had a difficult start to the European clay season, being knocked out in the round of 16 at the Monte Carlo Masters, in the quarter-finals at Banja Luka and then pulling out of Madrid with his elbow problem.
However, Djokovic said he overcame the physical issues that marred this part of his season.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. There are always things here and there that bother you at this level,” he added.
“It’s normal. When you’re not 20-25 anymore, you feel that a little more than before.
“I feel good… Historically, throughout my career, Rome has been a very good tournament for me, I’ve been successful there several times, I’ve reached the final.
“It’s my most successful event on clay. Coming to Roland-Garros can be a great springboard for what’s to come in Paris where I want to be at my best.”
On the court Thursday, Taylor Townsend, ranked No. 168 in the world, upset third-ranked Jessica Pegula 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to advance to the third round of the WTA event.
Townsend’s only previous top-10 win came in a fourth round at the 2019 US Open, where she beat Simona Halep, then ranked fourth in the world. She will then face China’s Wang Xiyu.
World number five Coco Gauff advanced to the third round with a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Yulia Putintseva in just under an hour.
“She’s obviously a tricky player, she’s had some big wins. She’s made the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros a few times. I know that clay is her surface. It’s also a bit mine too, so it was a good match today,” said Gauff, runner-up for the 2022 French Open.
Former world number one Victoria Azarenka ended Sloane Stephens’ six-game winning streak 6-4, 6-3.
After their victories, neither Azarenka nor Coco Gauff spoke about the sexism feud that marred their appearance in the women’s doubles final at the Madrid Open last weekend.
Azarenka and her partner, Beatriz Haddad Maia, and Gauff, who played with Pegula, were not allowed to address the crowd after the Madrid final unlike their male counterparts.
On Thursday, however, the Madrid tournament organizers apologized for the move, saying “players and fans…expect more from the Mutua Madrid Open tournament”.
Meanwhile, Jannik Sinner says he feels the weight of expectations from his Italian home crowd as the world number eight begins his campaign on Friday against Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Rome have not seen an Italian winner of the tournament since Adriano Panatta in 1976.
With local boy Matteo Berrettini out of action again due to abdominal issues, Sinner will get the bulk of the capital’s backing.
“There’s pressure, but it’s positive because these are people who care about me and push me through tough times,” Sinner told reporters.
“Having the crowd on your side is a card you can use, but you have to be smart to know how to use it. When I come here to play in the center or on the Pietrangeli courts, it’s completely unique.”
Sinner has had a decent season so far, winning in Montpellier in February and reaching at least the quarter-finals in seven of his eight tournaments so far.


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