Defending champ Djokovic singles out rivals

 - Dan Imhoff

Serbian fine-tunes in Paris in training hit-out with title threat Alcaraz

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2022, media day© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

It comes as a fitting treat when the two contenders running hottest on the eve of Roland-Garros stand toe to toe on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

It is a rare encounter, however, when these leading title aspirants – defending champion Novak Djokovic and his fearless Madrid vanquisher, Carlos Alcaraz – should do so before their respective Paris campaigns have even begun.

Why risk surrendering any more trade secrets than already offered in the heat of battle?

So it became a rare treat indeed when Djokovic and Alcaraz traded blows in a practice session together on Chatrier, one last chance to gather any on-court intelligence should they end up crossing paths in the semi-finals.


The world No.1, who turns 35 on Sunday, admitted he was one to dissect his route to further glory with a fine-toothed comb, not that he would be drawn on any rematch with his teenage Spanish sparring partner.

“I had a look at the draw. I think every player always looks at the entire draw and studies it in a way,” Djokovic said ahead of his first-round clash with Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.

“You can only focus on your next challenge and match… It's a very tough top half of the men's draw, but there is something that you can't really affect… I have trained mostly with right-handed players and I'm playing with a lefty, so it is difficult.”

Novak Djokovic, practice, Roland-Garros 2022Clement Mahoudeau / FFT

Spanish threat

The lively Alcaraz has been arguably the most in-form contender for the title heading to Paris alongside the 20-time major champion.

The narrowest of victories over the Serbian on home soil came en route to his second Masters 1000 trophy.

Djokovic remained equally wary of both Spanish rivals – the rising pretender and his greatest clay-court adversary, 13-time champion Rafael Nadal.

“We talk about favourites for Roland-Garros and clay, you know that Nadal always has to be right at the top, because of his records particularly in this tournament,” Djokovic said.

Peaking at the right time

“And then you have Alcaraz that obviously is the story of men's tennis in the last four or five months with a big reason. He's had some tremendous leaps forward on rankings and the results that he's been achieving are phenomenal for someone of his age.”

Still far from his best in his first tournaments back on clay – in Monte-Carlo and Belgrade – Djokovic began to hit his stride in Madrid and truly found his feet in Rome, where he trounced the field before him without conceding a set.

His attempt to defend a Roland-Garros title for the first time begins in earnest on Monday.

“I think that experience of being on the tour for such a long time helps to know how to spend energy on the court match after match, bring out the right intensity, manage everything that happens off the court, as well, and peak at the right time,” Djokovic said.

“Best-of-five, obviously things are different. A Grand Slam I think awakens so much motivation and emotions in a tennis player.”