Novak Djokovic dismisses wrist concerns ahead of Australian Open defence

By Sports Desk January 13, 2024

Novak Djokovic is optimistic his wrist problems are behind him as he prepares to start his bid for an 11th Australian Open title.

The world number one was hampered by a right wrist issue during an uncharacteristic loss to Alex De Minaur playing for Serbia at the United Cup earlier this month.

But he has been practising this week at Melbourne Park, and said ahead of a first-round clash with Croatian teenager Dino Prizmic on Sunday: “My wrist is good.

“I had time from the last match against De Minaur in the United Cup to my first match here to recover. I’ve been training well. Practice sessions pain-free so far. It’s all looking good. Let’s see how it goes.”

Djokovic is no stranger to injuries in Melbourne, with an abdominal problem almost derailing him in 2021, while he played through last year’s tournament with a hamstring issue.

He still won the title on both occasions, and he said of the wrist: “It’s not as bad as some other injuries I had here – 2021 and last year I had worse injuries that I had to deal with.

“I can’t predict whether it’s going to come back. Once I start playing more matches, stress levels go higher. I don’t know. We have to find out.”

At 36, Djokovic remains as dominant as ever, falling only one match short of a calendar Grand Slam in 2023.

This year once again offers the chance for a Golden Slam, with a first Olympic gold medal in Paris an obvious target, while another victory in Melbourne would make him the first player ever to win 25 slam singles titles.

“It’s no secret that I verbalise my goals and I say clearly that I want to win every slam that I play in,” said the Serbian.

“It’s no different this year. I’m just hoping I can start the season in a way that I have been starting my seasons, most of my seasons, throughout my career: with a win here in Australia, in Melbourne.

“My favourite place, no doubt. The court where I’ve done great things and achieved my greatest grand slam results.

“I hope that I’m going to be able to, if not play at the level that I did last year, then be very close to that, because that was one of the best tennis levels that I’ve ever played, here in Australia last year.

“The season is so long. Grand slams, Olympics, those are the big goals. I have to see how it goes here and think about everything else when it comes around the corner.”

Djokovic continues to hold back the next generation single-handed, with only Carlos Alcaraz managing to get the better of him at the slams last year in a brilliant Wimbledon final.

The Spaniard, who missed last year’s Australian Open with a leg injury, leads Djokovic’s likely challengers along with fellow young gun Jannik Sinner.

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Carlos Alcaraz Garfia (@carlitosalcarazz)

 

Alcaraz is already eyeing a potential final battle against Djokovic, saying: “It’s an extra motivation for me. I’m an ambitious guy. Obviously it’s a good test, playing against him in the places or in the tournament that he’s almost unbeaten.

“I’m looking for reaching the final and hopefully playing a final against him. It would be great, obviously.”

Alcaraz will have to do it, though, without his long-time coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, who is back home in Spain recuperating from knee surgery.

Alcaraz, who plays veteran Richard Gasquet in round one, is being guided here by Ferrero’s former coach Samuel Lopez, and he said: “It’s tough not being with him. Obviously he travels to almost 100 per cent of the tournaments. It’s going to be difficult to approach a big tournament without him.

“I have Sam with me that is a great coach as well. I trust him. I believe in him. Juan Carlos as well. I think I can learn a lot from him.”

Related items

  • Alcaraz 'a little bit scared' by ongoing arm problem ahead of French Open bow Alcaraz 'a little bit scared' by ongoing arm problem ahead of French Open bow

    Carlos Alcaraz says he is feeling better ahead of the French Open, but still has concerns about ongoing issues with his right forearm.

    The world number three reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros 12 months ago, losing out to eventual champion Novak Djokovic, but his preparations have been far from ideal this time around.

    Alcaraz has been dogged by an injury to his right forearm during the clay-court season, which forced him to withdraw from Barcelona and Rome, while his fitness struggles were evident in his Madrid Open quarter-final defeat by Andrey Rublev.

    The Spaniard admits he may have to adapt his game plan against J.J. Wolf in the opening round, but he was optimistic on media day in the French capital.

    "I'm feeling better," he smiled. "At least I can practise and hit balls without pain. That's a really good point for me. I came here to this tournament with not as many matches as I wanted, but I'm focusing on practice.

    "I'm not feeling any pain when I step on the court in practice, but I'm still thinking about it when I am hitting forehands. I'm a little bit scared about hitting every forehand 100 per cent, so I have to change it in my first match.

    "It's Roland Garros, and it's a really special tournament. Everybody wants to have good results here. This tournament is one of the main reasons that I'm practising every day. I want to be a better player, to be able to win these kinds of tournaments.

    "I'm practising well. I'm getting in rhythm. I'm getting confidence [from] the practice and that is really important, and I think I don't need too many matches to get to my 100 per cent level."

  • Zverev gearing up to face 'peak Nadal' in Roland Garros opener Zverev gearing up to face 'peak Nadal' in Roland Garros opener

    Alexander Zverev is preparing to face a Rafael Nadal at the peak of his powers when they collide in the first round at the French Open.

    The fourth seed takes on the 14-time winner in the most eye-catching tie of the opening round at Roland Garros, where they memorably locked horns in the 2022 semi-finals.

    It looked set to be a classic encounter on Court Philippe Chatrier until Zverev suffered a horrifying ankle ligament injury at the back end of the second set, following which he was forced to retire.

    The German admits that will be in the back of his mind two years on, and the three-time semi-finalist is fresh from claiming his first ATP Masters title in three years at the Italian Open last time out.

    Nadal, meanwhile, has suffered an almost endless battle with injuries since that last-four clash, but stepped up preparations for his Roland Garros swansong with successive appearances in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.

    Nevertheless, Zverev is ready to face an inspired Spaniard, who boasts an incredible 112-3 record at this event.

    "In my mind, I'm going to play peak Rafa Nadal," the 27-year-old said. "That's what I expect him to be. I expect him to be at his absolute best. I expect him to play the best tennis he's played in a long time on this court.

    "I wanted to play Rafa again in my career, in his career, because I didn't want my last memory of me playing against Rafa to be me leaving the court in a wheelchair.

    "Ideally, I would have liked to play him in the later stage of the tournament, but it is how it is now. He is unseeded this year. I am seeded. It's a tough draw, but it's a tough draw for both of us. We'll see how it goes on Monday."

  • Rafa's last dance: Nadal's farewell shot at Roland-Garros glory Rafa's last dance: Nadal's farewell shot at Roland-Garros glory

    Rafael Nadal is about to step out at Roland-Garros for the final time.

    The Spanish great - a 22-time grand slam champion – is set for his farewell appearance at the French Open, which he has won a record 14 times.

    It seems unlikely the soon-to-be 38-year-old will extend that record on Court Philippe-Chatrier over the coming two weeks, though of course you never know.

    Familiar foe Novak Djokovic goes in with better odds than Nadal, as the world number one aims to retain his crown.

    Yet, there is the new generation of superstars looking to take control, and on Nadal's farewell appearance at the tournament he has dominated, it would be fitting if the baton was handed over to Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner or another star of the next generation.

    Let's dive into the data ahead of the 2024 French Open.

     

    Rafa's last dance

    We couldn't start anywhere else. What an icon Nadal has been, especially at Roland-Garros, and you would be a brave punter to bet against anyone matching or bettering his haul of 14 titles in Paris.

    Nadal is one of two players to have won 10 men's singles titles at a single major, along with Djokovic at the Australian Open (10 titles).

    The Spaniard holds a 100 per cent winning record in the French Open final, while he has also taken the Roland-Garros crown on four occasions without dropping a single set (2008, 2010, 2017 and 2020).

    His tally of 112 matches won at the French Open is more than any other player has managed when it comes to match wins at a single major, seven ahead of Roger Federer's tally of 105 at Wimbledon.

    Indeed, Nadal's win percentage at Roland-Garros (97.4 per cent) is the best of any player at a single grand slam. He has only lost three of his 115 matches at the French Open and only two opponents have managed to beat him there – Djokovic (twice) and Robin Soderling.

    Nadal's best consecutive run of matches won at the French Open is 39, which is only bettered by Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon (41) and Federer in the US Open and Wimbledon (40 at each tournament) in the Open Era.

    Only Djokovic, Margaret Court (24 each) and Serena Williams (23) have won more major titles than Nadal, while only Djokovic and Federer have appeared in more grand slam men's singles finals than Nadal in the Open Era.

    Yet, if he is to dazzle the Paris crowd in one last dance at Roland-Garros, he is going to have to do it the hard way, having been drawn against world number four Alexander Zverev.

    The German is coming off the back of claiming his second Italian Open title, becoming the third player since 2000 to win that tournament on multiple occasions, after Nadal (10) and Djokovic (six).

    A good omen for Rafa, perhaps, is that he is the only player with over 10 wins against top-five opponents at Roland-Garros since the ATP Rankings were published in 1974, with 20 such victories.

    Should he make it beyond Zverev, Nadal could have a relatively kind run to the last 16, in which Holger Rune may be waiting. Daniil Medvedev or Alex de Minaur would be the quarter-final opponent before a potential semi against Djokovic, and a possible final against Nadal's heir apparent in Alcaraz.

    Nadal is not the only modern great who is set to make his farewell French Open appearance. Andy Murray has indicated he will retire in the coming months, too.

    Djokovic the defender

    The spotlight might be on Nadal, but Djokovic is the defending title and is out to make history, as he bids to surpass Court's record of 24 majors and become the outright leader for grand slam titles across men's and women's singles events.

    Aged 36 years and 20 days, Djokovic became the oldest winner of the men's singles at Roland-Garros in the Open Era when he triumphed last year. Djokovic is one of two players in the Open Era aged 35 or over to win the event, along with Nadal (2022).

    Since the start of the 2020 season, three players have registered 50 or more men’s singles match wins at grand slam events, with Djokovic leading the way (86), ahead of Medvedev (59) and Zverev (56). 

    Djokovic is out to become the second player in the Open Era to secure a major singles title after turning 37, along with Ken Rosewall at the Australian Open in 1972.

    In the event he reaches the quarter-final barring walkovers, Djokovic will surpass Federer (369) for the most men's singles match wins at grand slams in the Open Era. Djokovic is currently on 366. 

    At least one of Federer, Nadal or Djokovic has made the men's singles final at Roland-Garros since 2005. Expect the three-time French Open champion to go on a deep run again.

    The contenders

    Alcaraz can't be discounted. The world number three has yet to reach a French Open final, but is the youngest player in the Open Era to reach the round of 16 at seven consecutive majors.

    Competing against the two-time grand slam champion is Sinner, who is now above Alcaraz in the ATP rankings.

    He is the player with the highest winning percentage so far in 2024 (93.3 per cent, 28-2), and is also only the second Italian in the Open Era to hold a top-three seed in the men's singles at Roland-Garros after Adriano Panatta (1977), who was defending champion that year.

    Zverev is in fine form, Medvedev is always dangerous and Casper Ruud is strong on clay.

    Only three unseeded players have won the men’s singles title at Roland-Garros in the Open Era – Mats Wilander (1982), Gustavo Kuerten (1997) and Gaston Gaudio (2004). Do not expect that to change this time around. 

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.