ATP / WTA: Rome rumbles serve up plenty of questions

The world's best have travelled to Italy for the chance to fine tune ahead of Roland-Garros 2024.

Novak Djokovic / Rome 2024©Regina Cortina Photography / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The countdown has reached single digits.

Roland-Garros 2024 begins on May 20, with Opening Week kick-starting in Paris in just 7 days' time. Until then there are some major moves to be made on the clay at the Foro Italico.

Let's catch up with some key contenders from the marquee ATP Masters 1000 and WTA 1000 combined event in Rome…

Downed Djokovic feeling "different"

Reigning Roland-Garros champion Novak Djokovic's stop-start campaign took another unexpected twist on Sunday.

The world No.1, 12-5 so far this season, succumbed to the in-form 29th seed Alejandro Tabilo 6-2, 6-3. Although the Chilean was clean and convincing, six-time Rome champion Djokovic seemed out of the zone, distracted, lacking his usual steel.

Following his opening victory over Corentin Moutet on Friday night, Djokovic was accidentally struck by a falling water bottle whilst signing autographs.

Did the incident impact Djokovic?  “I don't know, to be honest. I have to check that,” responded the 36-year-old.

"I have to do medical check-ups and see what's going on… Maybe it is okay. Maybe it's not. The way I felt on the court today was just completely like a different player entered into my shoes. Just no rhythm, no tempo, no balance whatsoever on any shot. It's a bit concerning.”

It certainly is concerning for the millions of Djokovic fans worldwide. The world No.1 declared he must improve "everything" in order to defend his crown at Roland-Garros next month. Remember, never count out Novak.

Sinner and Alcaraz in recovery mode

Italian talisman Jannik Sinner admitted "it’s a tough one to swallow," having withdrawn from the Rome running with a hip injury sustained earlier this month in Madrid. Similarly, a reoccurring right arm pain denied Carlos Alcaraz a title shot in Rome.

Over the weekend the 21-year-old uploaded to social media an on-court video with the caption, "Working on my way back as soon as possible!"

On top of Casper Ruud departing early (losing in three sets to Miomir Kecmanovic despite a 6-0 start), plenty of other leading lights remain in contention in the Italian capital.

World No.4 Daniil Medvedev, Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov present astute shouts in Rome. Can these types of high-flying names disrupt the usual storylines in Paris?

Rome royalty Nadal bows out

World No.9 Hubert Hurkacz was smooth as well as lethal to dispatch Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-3, in what appears to be the 10-time champion's final trip to the Foro Italico.

“I’m definitely really proud of myself,” said Hurkacz. “Playing Rafa is something special. It’s just different, especially being on clay, the surface that he has just dominated over the past 20 years. No one will ever have a record like him on this surface.

"He’s just bigger than the sport at the end of the day. So many people follow him and he inspired so many guys, so I’m just really happy to have had that experience.”

Quite the words from the ever-humble Hurkacz.

As for Nadal, the 14-time Roland-Garros winner is keeping his cards close to his chest ahead of competing on his cherished Court Philippe-Chatrier.

"The decision, as you can imagine, is not clear in my mind today," said Nadal after the second-round loss.

"But if I have to say what's my feeling and if my mind is closer one way or the other way, I'm going to say 'be in Roland-Garros and try my best'.

"Physically, I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say not playing in the most important event of my tennis career."

Swiatek and Sabalenka soaring

The WTA 1000 roster has eight potentially pulsating Last 16 clashes in Rome on Monday.

Can anyone stop Iga Swiatek? The Roland-Garros defending champion is clicking into gear just at the right time, without dropping a set to Bernarda Pera, Yulia Putintseva and former world No.1 Angelique Kerber so far to maintain her title form from Madrid.

World No.3 Coco Gauff defeated the resurgent Paula Badosa (5-7, 6-4, 6-1) and will now face Qinwen Zheng, who put an end to Naomi Osaka's fine run.

Danielle Collins has won 17 of her past 18 matches, two-time Rome champion Elina Svitoina is fired up, the women's game is currently blessed with a plethora of fiercely determined and front-foot competitors.

As for Sabalenka, the world No.2 has shrugged off illness and will target the quarter-finals over the net from Svitolina.