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After Rome exit, Novak Djokovic shifts focus: “I like my chances in Grand Slams against anybody”
The defending champ had won his nine previous Rome quarterfinals, but his streak came to an end after an error-prone performance against Holger Rune.
Published May 17, 2023
WATCH: Holger Rune defeats Novak Djokovic at the 2023 Italian Open quarterfinals
Novak Djokovic missed out on raising a seventh trophy in Rome, but the world No. 1 says he has his sights firmly set on Roland Garros glory.
The defending champion—who will drop to No. 2 next week—fell in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarterfinals to Holger Rune, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Djokovic had won his nine previous quarterfinals in Rome, but saw his streak come to an end after an error-prone performance in rainy conditions.
While the defeat dealt another blow to Djokovic’s Grand Slam preparations after early exits in Monte Carlo and Banja Luka, it’s too soon to sound the alarm. Djokovic told press in Rome that despite the lack of matches—he missed out on Indian Wells and Miami and withdrew from Madrid—he’s confident that his best tennis is within reach.
“I know I can always play better,” Djokovic said. “Definitely I’m looking forward to working on various aspects of my game, of my body, hopefully getting myself in 100% shape. That's the goal.
“I always like my chances in Grand Slams against anybody on any surface, best-of-five. Let's see how it goes.”
Djokovic held a 13-3 record in Rome quarterfinals, but on Wednesday he found himself affected by the slower and rainier conditions—which Djokovic said favored Rune. The match was interrupted at the end of the second set by a rain delay, and it was drizzling throughout.
As a result, Djokovic struggled to hit through his opponent. He played more aggressively to overcompensate, and racked up 35 unforced errors to Rune’s 15 by the end of the match and was broken five times.
“I think this is probably the coldest and wettest tournament I've ever played here in Rome,” Djokovic said. “I don't really recall so many days in a row raining.
“Obviously in these kinds of conditions, it's very difficult to get the ball past him. He's very, very fast, very quick. Great anticipation. Just a very talented, dynamic player, all-around player.”
"Next to [Rafa] of course, Alcaraz, Rune, and these guys are right there in contention... Some of the biggest favorites to win the title.” Djokovic on Roland Garros
Djokovic had plenty of praise for his 20-year-old opponent, who Djokovic said reminded him a bit of himself during a pre-quarterfinal interview. Rune is part of a wave of talented young players, including Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, that are increasingly making their mark at the Grand Slam and ATP Masters 1000 level.
Case in point: This year’s Rome final will be the first since 2004 to feature neither Djokovic nor Rafael Nadal, who withdrew due to injury before the tournament began.
But with no clear dominant force on clay this year, does that leave Roland Garros wide open?
“It depends if Nadal plays or not,” Djokovic said with a grin. “But next to him of course Alcaraz, Rune, these guys are right there in the contention, some of the biggest favorites to win the title.”
“Obviously, a new generation is here already. I mean, Alcaraz is No. 1 in the world from Monday,” Djokovic added. “Obviously he's playing amazing tennis.
“I think it's also good for our sport that we have new faces, new guys coming up. It's normal… I'm personally still trying to hang in there with all of them.”