Novak Djokovic on Thursday quelled any concerns about his physical status leading into the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
The Serbian star missed the Mutua Madrid Open and lost early at both the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and the Srpska Open, but is excited to start his tournament in Rome, where he has won the title six times.
“It’s all good. It’s all good. I mean, there [are] always some things here and there that bother you on this level. It’s normal. Also when you’re not 25 anymore, I guess you experience that a bit more than what used to be the case. It takes a little bit more time I guess to recover,” Djokovic said. “But I feel good. I miss competition. I love playing in Rome. Historically throughout my career, Rome has always been a very nice tournament for me, had plenty of success, won it many times. Played also quite a few times in [the] final.”
Djokovic admitted that it takes more time for him to get used to clay than other surfaces. The 35-year-old explained that there are multiple factors that go into that.
“It’s the movement. Every bounce more or less is different. It’s such an irregular-bounce surface. You have wind. You have clay, a surface that is alive basically. Let’s call it this way. Like grass in a way,” Djokovic said. “On clay, if you have a windy day, wind takes out the top layer of the surface, and it affects the bounce, it affects the spin of the ball, the speed of the court. Of course, if it rains or something like this, the conditions are different every single day, then it affects whether the clay is softer or harder.
“There’s plenty of factors that are in play, and you just have to deal with so much more than other surfaces. That’s how I feel. Sometimes it’s really overwhelming. It’s all about I guess adjusting to that.”
This is not to say Djokovic has been unsuccessful on clay. The World No. 1 has won 18 tour-level titles on the surface and owns a 79.9 per cent win rate on it, good for fourth in the Open Era according to Infosys ATP Stats. It simply takes him more time to find his rhythm on clay.
“I feel that it takes more practice sessions, more weeks of spending time on the court and working on your shots, working on your tactics, on technique, adaptation to the court than any other surface,” Djokovic said. “I’ve been hearing some players say that about grass. For me, I’ve been fortunate on grass, I adapt really quickly. But clay is something that really demands time for me.”
If Djokovic and second seed Carlos Alcaraz, who has won back-to-back titles in Barcelona and Madrid, advance to the final, they will meet for the first time this season. Djokovic was highly complimentary of the 20-year-old ahead of the tournament. Alcaraz will return to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings after Rome just by taking the court for his opening match.
“He’s going to be No. 1 after this tournament whatever happens. Deservedly so. He’s been playing some very impressive tennis, a great level. He’s the player to beat on this surface, no doubt,” Djokovic said. “Of course, it depends if Nadal is going to play in the 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, it would be in [the] final. I think we would both love to play in the final. Let’s see. It’s a long tournament. There’s a lot of great players.”
Djokovic will begin his tournament against Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry. It will be the pair’s first ATP Head2Head meeting.
“I don’t know much about him. I’ve watched him play several times. I’ve seen also his posts decreasing the deficit in the points between us,” Djokovic said. “I wish him all the best. He seems like a very nice guy, coming from a country that has lots of tennis success. He looks like a very hard worker, fighter on the court. I wish him all the best except tomorrow night.”