Novak Djokovic has new French Open ‘fuel’ thanks to Nadal but faces two threats

Novak Djokovic has been told that Rafael Nadal’s absence from the French Open could give him the boost he needs to make history. John McEnroe believes Djokovic will be fuelled by the chance to overtake Nadal and make Grand Slam history. But the American tennis legend also believes there are two stars who could threaten the Serb’s hopes, naming Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune as title favourites.

The upcoming French Open is set to be the most open in years for the men, with 14-time champion Nadal absent due to injury. Djokovic has also cast some doubts about his form coming into Paris, as this season marks the first since 2018 that he has yet to lift a title on the clay ahead of Roland Garros.

While the world No 3 has not met his usual exceedingly-high standards during the clay swing – failing to get beyond the quarter-final stage of any event – McEnroe believes he has received the fuel he needs to lift the trophy in Paris. “It’s his quest to be the best ever and win the most Majors so right now it looks like he’s the only guy left who could break more records,” he told Eurosport.

“He’s tied with Rafa so this is an opening. He’s had a tough year and a half in a lot of ways and he’s also done some incredible things. Novak, he’s always looking for some inspiration, some fuel, and he’s got some now and he’s got a great chance.”

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But the seven-time Major champion has also warned Djokovic that there are two players who could ruin his chances of lifting a third trophy at Roland Garros – especially with Nadal’s absence leaving the “door more open for any player that wants to win this tournament”.

He continued: “It’s much more open, you have Novak who’s won it twice, and then it becomes much more wide open after that. So, I think from that standpoint, it’s exciting.” And he gave Djokovic a stark reminder that the Big Three era is coming to an end, explaining how Alcaraz and Rune have been able to do something that Alexander Zverev’s generation couldn’t.

“We’re approaching obviously the end of an era. I mean, this has been going on for 15 years, if not longer, so it’s unbelievable, but everything at some point ends,” the retired pro said. “Novak is 36 now and he seems to be incredible for the most part and his body still seems to be able to do what he wants, but at some point, you think in the near future, that’s going to change. It’s just a question of how long can you keep going, that’s why you’re seeing young guys, finally…”

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Naming Alcaraz as his pick to win the French Open, McEnroe also thought that Rune was up there, with the Dane recently beating Djokovic in Rome. He added: “It’s taken almost a generation and skipped like all these people that didn’t win much like Zverev, [Daniil] Medvedev won one, [Dominic] Thiem won one. There’s a lot of guys that didn’t win any you know, now you got these 20-year-olds in Alcaraz and Rune, who’s the next guy, I pick him as the third or fourth guy ahead of these other guys.

“The young bucks are finally starting to emerge, but you have to wait and see if they’re mentally ready to you know, Alcaraz proved he was at the US Open but now you have to see if Rune is capable of making that step to win something like this, but right now if you asked me, I would say Alcaraz would be the slight favourite to win this.”

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