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It was a week of highs and lows in Rome as Novak Djokovic finally won his first title of the season and found his form in time for the French Open, while another big favourite for the clay-court Major was struck by injury.
Rafael Nadal’s chronic foot injury flared up during his third-round loss to Denis Shapovalov, leaving him a doubt for the upcoming French Open. But another former champion in Paris – Iga Swiatek – enjoyed the perfect week at the Italian Open as she extended her match-winning streak to 28, successfully defending her title from last year and winning her fifth trophy in a row.
Daniil Medvedev also confirmed his comeback ahead of the French Open, coming as a surprise to many who thought the world No 2 would be out until the grass-court season. And Emma Raducanu was another Grand Slam champion hit by injury in Rome, as she retired her opening match with the back injury that had plagued her in recent events, and couldn’t commit to the upcoming French Open.
Express Sport takes a look at the biggest stories from on and off the court at last week’s Italian Open.
Djokovic clinches French Open top-seeding and 1,000th win en route to Rome title
Djokovic proved he was back to his best last week as he won his long-awaited first title of the season at the Italian Open. It was his sixth title in Rome and a record-extending 38th Masters 1000, and the world No 1 also secured some milestones throughout the week.
He joined an elite club of just four other men to have reached 1,000 career match wins with his 6-4 6-3 victory over Casper Ruud in the semi-finals, joining Nadal, Federer, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors. And a round earlier, when he beat Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-5 7-6(1) in the quarters, Djokovic ensured he would remain the world No 1 and secured the top-seed spot for the French Open.
The 34-year-old was asked whether he had the perfect week in Rome and replied with a confident “yes”, also firing a warning to his French Open competitors as he said he was back to his best just in time for his title defence in Paris. “Like the previous years, I knew that my best shape on the clay is usually coming around Rome time so couldn’t be better time obviously coming into Roland Garros with the title in this wonderful tournament,” he said.
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Nadal maintains French Open “goal” despite concerning injury setback in Shapovalov loss
Nadal was hampered by his chronic foot injury during his round-of-16 loss to Shapovalov, He was leading by a set when the foot started to bother him midway through the second and he ultimately lost 2-6 7-5 6-2, sparking huge concern ahead of the French Open. The world No 4 later described himself not as being “injured” but as “a player living with an injury”, referring to the Mueller-Weiss Syndrome he has battled throughout his career.
Rome was only the second tournament of his comeback from a rib injury and Nadal shared his disappointment to suffer a setback after finally starting to feel good in his comeback. “Negative thing and toughest thing for me today is honestly I start to feel myself play much better. I started the match playing much better. My practice was much better, the warmup, than the other day,” he said.
“Yeah, I feel sad about that, that I started to feel again a lot of positive things. But then when these kind of stuff happens, the rest of the things, the rest of the positive things disappears, no?” But the 13-time French Open champion maintained that the upcoming Major was still the “goal”, confirming his doctor would be with him in Paris and adding: “[It’s] in a week and a couple of days and I’m gonna keep dreaming about that goal.”
Djokovic sends Nadal French Open warning as he finds best form in Rome
Daniil Medvedev return date set in huge boost ahead of French Open
Murray withdraws from French Open as Wimbledon proirity despite threat
Raducanu retires injured with French Open debut looming
Nadal isn’t the only Grand Slam champion who suffered an injury scare in Rome, as Raducanu was forced to retire a set and break down to Bianca Andreescu in the first round. The 19-year-old has been struggling with her back in recent tournaments and it became worse in her Italian Open debut, as she took a medical time out at the end of the first set before retiring 6-2 2-1 down, having told the physio: “I can’t move.”
The British No 1 then returned home to assess the injury ahead of the French Open, but while still in Rome she confessed she would prioritise the recovery of her back, admitting she shouldn’t have played in Italy. “Of course I want to play every opportunity I have, and probably even when I shouldn’t,” she said.
“I hope that I can just get my back right and my body fully fit. I think that next week might be a tight turnaround, even though I wanted to play next week and get more matches on clay. My back takes priority, so we’ll see what happens.”
Swiatek extends incredible streak by ending Jabeur’s run
Swiatek successfully defended her Italian Open title from last year, and in doing so extended her match-winning streak to 28. The 20-year-old has now won the last five tournaments she has played, four of which have been at WTA 1000 level, in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and now Rome.
The world No 1 ended Ons Jabeur’s own winning streak of 11 matches in the final, as the Tunisian had lifted her biggest title yet at last week’s Madrid WTA 1000, where Swiatek pulled out with injury. She now goes into the French Open as the heavy favourite in the women’s side as a former champion at the tournament, having lost just three matches all season.
Medvedev confirms return from surgery and surprises everyone with French Open appearance
Medvedev has not played since crashing out of the Miami Open quarter-final at the end of March, having claimed he played like “a fish on the sofa” in his loss to Hubert Hurkacz. But there was a reason for the 26-year-old’s poor performance, as he later revealed he found out he had been playing with a small hernia for several months and would be having surgery, sidelining him for one to two months.
The world No 2 wasn’t expected to return until the grass season – where he is banned from playing Wimbledon as a Russian player – but was announced as a surprise last-minute wildcard for this week’s ATP 250 in Geneva ahead of the French Open next week. With Djokovic defending 2,000 points from winning the clay-court Grand Slam last year and Medvedev only defending quarter-final points in Paris, his return will threaten Djokovic’s spot at the top of tennis.
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