Novak Djokovic ‘feels good’ but labels Carlos Alcaraz ‘the player to beat’ on clay

Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz joking

Novak Djokovic has described Carlos Alcaraz as the ‘player to beat’ on clay ahead of his return to action at the Italian Open.

The 35-year-old also revealed he is feeling good physically after having struggled with an elbow injury during the clay-court season so far.

The world No 1 did not compete at the Madrid Open after being hampered by the issue at events in Monte Carlo and Banja Luka. The Serbian lost to Lorenzo Musetti in the third round in Monte Carlo and Dusan Lajovic in the Banja Luka quarter-finals.

Alcaraz has been outstanding on clay in 2023, winning three titles and compiling a 19-1 record. The 20-year-old Spaniard triumphed at back-to-back events on home soil in Barcelona and Madrid – defending titles he won last year.

Remarkably, the Italian Open will be the first tournament of the season to feature both Djokovic and Alcaraz – the two top-ranked ATP players. Alcaraz will usurp Djokovic at the top of the ATP Rankings following the Masters 1000 event even if he loses his opening match.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion discussed this unusual fact in his pre-tournament press conference in Rome.

“Yeah, it is strange that we haven’t been in the same draw since the beginning of the season. Due to the circumstances on both sides, that didn’t happen. I mean, he’s going to be No 1 after this tournament whatever happens. Deservedly so,” Djokovic said.

“He’s been playing some very impressive tennis, a great level. He’s the player to beat on this surface, no doubt. Of course, it depends if [Rafael] Nadal is going to play in French Open or not.

“But Alcaraz is one of the top favourites without any dilemma. He’s been playing fantastic tennis. We faced each other only once last year in Madrid. If we get a chance to face each other here, would be in finals. I think we would both love to play in the finals.”

The six-time Italian Open winner and defending champion also insisted his elbow issue is no longer bothering him.

“It’s all good, it’s all good. There are always some things here and there that bother you at this level. It’s normal. When you’re not 20-25 anymore, you experience that a bit more than what used to be the case,” the 35-year-old added.

“I feel good. Historically throughout my career, Rome has been a very nice tournament for me, I had success in it many times, got to finals. It’s my most successful clay-court event. Coming into the French Open it can be a great springboard for what’s coming up in Paris where I want to be at my best.”

Djokovic will face Tomas Martin Etcheverry in his opening match in Rome, while Alcaraz will take on Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

MORE: WATCH: Novak Djokovic puts his elbow to the test during ‘ferocious’ session with Jannik Sinner