Novak Djokovic cops French Open blow as Carlos Alcaraz wins in Rome

The development represents a psychological blow for Novak Djokovic ahead of the clay court grand slam.

Pictured right, tennis young gun Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic on the left.
Tennis young gun Carlos Alcaraz will head into the French Open as the top seed regardless of whether Novak Djokovic defends his Italian Open title. Pic: Getty

Carlos Alcaraz has dealt Novak Djokovic a psychological blow after claiming the World No.1 ranking ahead of the French Open. The 20-year-old tennis ace will go into the Roland Garros grand slam as the top seed and one of the favourites for the men's title after extending his win streak on clay to 12 matches at the Italian Open.

In reality, Alcaraz only needed to step onto court against Albert Ramos-Vinolas at the Rome Masters event to take the No.1 ranking from Djokovic. Not content with his new status as the best male player in the world, the 20-year-old proceeded to put on a masterclass against Ramos-Vinolas, by cruising to a 6-4 6-1 triumph in the battle of the Spaniards.

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Coming off the back of titles in Barcelona and Madrid, Alcaraz will pass Djokovic for the top spot when the rankings are next published on May 22. Crucially, he will also be guaranteed the top ranking at the French Open - which starts on May 28 - regardless of whether Djokovic defends his title in Rome.

Alcaraz double-faulted to hand Ramos-Vinolas a break of his serve in the opening game of the match but quickly recovered and used his well-disguised drop shot to set up the key break at the end of the first set. The Spanish young gun produced nearly three times as many winners as Ramos-Vinolas (28-11), despite slow conditions on a rainy day that saw play suspended in the Italian capital.

The victory saw Alcaraz improve his record to 20-1 on clay this year. Speaking after the match about securing the top seed at the French Open by the age of 20, a clearly delighted Alcaraz admitted it was a "crazy" feeling.

"Well, it's great to be No. 1 seed in Roland Garros, in a Grand Slam is something crazy," Alcaraz said during his on-court interview. "I couldn't believe it years ago, but yes, I am very happy.

"It doesn't change too much to be No. 1 or No. 2 seed, I just focus on the tournament, on my game, on every match and that's something that I try not to think about. But of course, it's something great, to be No. 1."

Novak Djokovic battling elbow issue in Rome

Djokovic - who is in the other half of the draw in Rome - won his opening match against Tomas Etcheverry, despite appearing in discomfort throughout the straight-sets triumph. Djokovic got off to an uncharacteristically poor start after dropping serve in the first game, before putting on a protective elbow sleeve in a sign of the obvious discomfort he's experiencing with the injury. The World No.1 struggled through the first set off the back of a staggering 21 unforced errors but ultimately did enough to seal a win and book a date with Grigor Dimitrov in the next round.

Seen here, Novak Djokovic at the Italian Open tennis tournament.
Novak Djokovic wore a protective sleeve on his troublesome elbow during an unconvincing win at the Rome Masters. Pic: Getty

Djokovic and Dimitrov square off on centre court in Rome on Sunday night (AEST), while Alcaraz next faces Jiri Lehecka or Hungarian qualifier Fabian Marozsan. That match was suspended due to the wet weather, with Marozsan leading 2-1 in the deciding set.

In other second-round matches, sixth-seeded Andrey Rublev beat Alex Molcan 6-3 6-4; JJ Wolf eliminated 14th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz 6-3 6-4; and Borna Coric rallied past Thiago Monteiro 4-6 7-6 (8), 7-6 (5).

The start of play was delayed for nearly two hours due to rain and there was also a brief interruption during the first set of the Rublev-Molcan match. Then there was a downpour during the final points, as Rublev hurried to close it out.

"I can rest now and I can rest tomorrow. I don't need to stress waiting," said Rublev, who won the Monte Carlo Masters last month. "It's very lucky when you are able to finish just before the rain and you know that most of the players still didn't play."

with AAP

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