After a year of disagreements, Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic have met in the shadow of the majestic pines of the Foro Itálico. This masterpiece of rationalist-fascist architecture has been the venue since 1935 for the Italian tennis championship, the most traditional clay-court tournament after Roland Garros, the grand slams the one that precedes as a prelude. The blows that are given in Rome have resonances in Paris, the great goal of the Spanish and the Serbian who for a season have alternated at the head of the faded ATP ranking.
The decline of the circuit, less and less competed for by differential talents, represents an unprecedented opportunity for Alcaraz to jump. The Murcian only glimpses a stumbling block: Nole Djokovic, who at 35, and after passing through Milan to attend the Champions League semifinal derby, takes his job with philosophy. The Serb played his first Roman game this Friday and showed signs of distraction. The Argentine Tomás Etcheverry began by breaking his serve in the first game and Djokovic could not solve the first set until the tie-breaker. The match ended 7-6, 6-2.
Alcaraz and Djokovic will only cross their rackets if they reach the final on Sunday the 21st. Alcaraz ensures his return to world number one just by stepping on the track in his debut, in the second round against Albert Ramos, this Saturday afternoon, starting at 1:00 p.m. (Movistar+). “My dream is to become one of the best in history,” declared the young man; “It is an ambitious dream but I am not afraid to try it”.
Defending champion status prevents Djokovic from scoring points in Rome. Until today, the 35-year-old Serb was at the top of the ranking of the ATP with 6,775 units, five more than Alcaraz. No one has lived longer than Nole at the top of the ranking, a total of 386 weeks in discontinuous periods that shadow Roger Federer himself (310) and make clear the challenger status of the young Spaniard (22).
The Murcian from El Palmar, who in 2022 became the youngest number one in history, will only have to play one game to leave Italy as the new leader. He has plenty of conditions for that, after a start to the season that furrows like a moldboard plow in the sand that the tennis elite has become after the last few tsunamis of Nadal and Federer. His mark was deep in Indian Wells and Madrid, the two Masters 1000 that he won showing very few signs of weakness, something unusual in a 20-year-old tennis player, but understandable if one considers the category of opponents he encountered: Zverev, Coric, Struff, Evans, Tsitsipas, Sinner, Medvedev… Most of the current inhabitants of the top-20 they would not have survived top-40 three decades ago.
Today Albert Ramos awaits you. The 35-year-old Catalan is not going through his best moment. But he may have a psychological tool to cheer him up a bit. Everyone on the circuit remembers that the Catalan knew how to put Alcaraz in trouble when they both met in the second round of the last edition of Roland Garros (6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 7-6 and 6-4). . The precedent invites us to contrast the evolution of Alcaraz.
Alcaraz enters the tournament in Rome for the first time in his career, and does so as the undisputed favourite. He has only suffered two defeats this season: against the South African Cameron Norrie in February, in the final of the Rio Open, and against the Italian Jannik Sinner in April, in the semifinals of the Miami Masters.
Sinner is hosting in Rome. He promises to resist the heat of his public. But Alcaraz enjoys an added advantage. His superiority can be increased thanks to the six days off he has enjoyed since the Caja Mágica final. Today the organization is benevolent with the headliners. If there is something that has characterized Alcaraz’s preparation since he won the US Open, it is the care he has taken to avoid injuries, protecting himself from the slightest pain, and giving rest paramount importance. The objective: to reach Roland Garros at its best, after passing through Rome.
Nobody better than Rafa Nadal to use the red earth of Monte Mario as a springboard: 8 of his 14 victories at Roland Garros were cooked up with two wins at the Foro Italico. He Apache He visited Rome for the first time at the age of 19 in 2005, won the Open and three weeks later won the first of his 22 majors in Paris. The path inspires Carlitos.
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