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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Sunday May 12, 2024

Djokovic Roma

With little time left before Roland-Garros, the chaos reigns supreme on the men's side.

Photo Source: Getty

With Novak Djokovic out of the mix in Rome (after Sunday’s loss to Alejandro Tabilo), the top half of the draw has been cracked wide open. Third-seeded Alexander Zverev, the 2017 champion, is the highest-ranked player remaining, while No.8-seeded Grigor Dimitrov – he of the impressive 24-7 record on the season – is still alive as well.

Tennis Express

Thanks to Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo creating the shock of the tournament, one of the following eight players – Tabilo, Karen Khachanov, Zhang Zhizhen, Thiago Monteiro, Zverev, Nuno Borges, Taylor Fritz or Dimitrov – will be a finalist next Sunday at the Foro Italico.

A rather crazy scenario at the tournament that has seen just three players not named Djokovic or Nadal win the title since 2005.

With No.2-seeded Daniil Medvedev and Zverev still lurking in the draw (Medvedev faces Hamad Medjedovic in third-round action on Monday in Rome) a first-time champion in Rome is not a lock, but if it does happen it will mark the first time the tournament has seen back-to-back first-time champions in successive years since Andy Murray and Zverev won their lone titles in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Sign of the times?

It appears so. With Rafael Nadal finishing what was likely his last Rome appearance with a second-round loss to Hubert Hurkacz, and Novak Djokovic ousted today, the landscape ahead of Roland-Garros looks drastically different than it has in past years.

Djokovic struggled after a freak accident on Friday, and it’s not crazy to imagine that he finds his best tennis in Paris, where he has been a dominant force over the last few seasons. That said, there is no denying the fact that he enters this year’s clay court Grand Slam in a more vulnerable state than he has been in a long time. He hasn’t even played an ATP final this season, and it’s May 12th.

Let us not forget that Nadal and Djokovic have a stronghold in Paris as well, with Nadal’s14 titles and Djokovic’s three, that makes 17 of the past 19 titles at Porte d’Auteuil for the two legends.

History counts in Paris, and until someone can prove otherwise, Sunday’s final ceremony is still the domain of Djokovic and Nadal.

But the winds of change are blowing, and it cannot be denied…

With Nadal set to turn 38 on June 2nd, and Djokovic set to celebrate his 37th birthday on May 22nd, we just don’t know what the future holds. Nadal himself isn’t even convinced that it will be worth it for him to play. Add to that the fact that Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz are both currently out of action with injuries and are doubtful to play – let alone perform at the peak of their powers – and we have a very wide open fortnight to look forward to.

Main draw play in Paris starts on Sunday May 26. For the first time since Nadal’s arrival on his beloved terre battue of Paris, it feels like the field is destined to prevail.

What does it portend for the next few weeks? It means that players like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud, Dimitrov and Zverev all have more hope than they’ve had in years. We can expect the competition to be fierce from others as well. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era in French Open history, where the trophy is up for grabs and new winners will emerge with increasing regularity

Someday in the future a healthy Alcaraz and Sinner could become dominant forces at the French, but it hasn’t happened yet. The window is open.

All this aforementioned backdrop will make the second week in Rome more critical. We’ve mentioned likely suspects like Zverev, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Rublev (players who’ve all won Masters 1000s on clay before), but Holger Rune, Nicolas Jarry, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz, Alex de Minaur, Hubert Hurkacz and Sebastian Baez are all looking to take a step as well.

The third-round will continue in Rome tomorrow with an air of possibility running through the men’s locker room. Perhaps a Masters 1000 title on clay isn’t an outlandish dream any more? And if that’s so, maybe the Coupe des Mousquetaires isn’t off limits any more, either?

It’s gonna be an interesting conclusion to the clay season on the men’s side. Buckle in and enjoy the ride.


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