Djokovic’s Rome Exit Opens Door for Sinner to Grab Top Ranking at Roland Garros 

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts during his match against Chile's Alejandro Tabilo at the Men's ATP Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on May 12, 2024. (AFP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts during his match against Chile's Alejandro Tabilo at the Men's ATP Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on May 12, 2024. (AFP)
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Djokovic’s Rome Exit Opens Door for Sinner to Grab Top Ranking at Roland Garros 

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts during his match against Chile's Alejandro Tabilo at the Men's ATP Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on May 12, 2024. (AFP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts during his match against Chile's Alejandro Tabilo at the Men's ATP Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on May 12, 2024. (AFP)

Novak Djokovic's shock exit from the Italian Open on Sunday could prove to be a decisive moment in the race for the world number one spot, as the top-ranked Serb prepares for his French Open title defense with Jannik Sinner poised to leapfrog him.

Two days after accidentally being hit on the head by a water bottle while signing autographs in Rome, an off-color Djokovic crashed to his earliest defeat in the tournament he has won six times after a 6-2 6-3 third-round thrashing by Alejandro Tabilo.

Djokovic will remain 1,090 points ahead of Sinner before the year's second Grand Slam begins on May 26, but the 36-year-old is on shaky ground as he will be defending 2,000 points in Paris and winning the title may not be enough to stay on top.

"It was a very unfortunate, unlucky situation ... that guy leaned over the fence, and the bottle dropped from his rucksack and landed on my head," Djokovic said, reflecting on the freak accident that hurt his chances to pull away from Sinner.

"It was unexpected. I wasn't even looking up. Then I felt a very strong hit in the head. That has really impacted me. After that I got the medical care. Been through half-an-hour, an hour of nausea, dizziness, blood, a lot of different things.

"I managed to sleep okay. I had headaches. Yesterday was fine, so I thought it's okay. Maybe it's okay. Maybe it's not.

"The way I felt on the court was just completely like a different player entered into my shoes. No rhythm, no tempo, no balance whatsoever on any shot. It's a bit concerning."

With only six matches on clay, Djokovic will be slightly undercooked as he heads to Paris in search of a record 25th Grand Slam title.

Even if Djokovic goes on to win at Roland Garros, Sinner could rise to world number one for the first time on June 10 by reaching the championship match.

The 22-year-old Sinner, who skipped Rome with a hip injury sustained in Madrid, will be defending only 45 points in Paris but faces a race against time to be fully fit.

Djokovic had endured a bumpy season even before the bottle incident as the Serb's bid for a record-extending 11th title at the Australian Open was snuffed out by eventual champion Sinner in the semi-finals.

He then fell to lucky loser Luca Nardi in the Indian Wells third round before being outlasted by Casper Ruud in the Monte Carlo semi-finals, sparking fear among fans that his aura of invincibility was slowly fading.

Despite winning three out of the four Grand Slams last year, Djokovic split with long-time coach Goran Ivanisevic and fitness coach Marco Panichi in a bid to rediscover his best form ahead of Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Paris Olympics.

Talk of terminal decline may still be premature and Djokovic could silence critics by winning a fourth title at the claycourt major, but he admitted things must improve fast after reaching May without a trophy for the first time since 2018.

"Everything needs to be better in order for me to have at least a chance to win it," said Djokovic.



Teenagers Yamal and Cubarsi Included in Young Spain Squad for European Championship 

Barcelona striker Lamine Yamal celebrates during the LaLiga match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 2024. (EPA)
Barcelona striker Lamine Yamal celebrates during the LaLiga match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 2024. (EPA)
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Teenagers Yamal and Cubarsi Included in Young Spain Squad for European Championship 

Barcelona striker Lamine Yamal celebrates during the LaLiga match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 2024. (EPA)
Barcelona striker Lamine Yamal celebrates during the LaLiga match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 2024. (EPA)

Spain is set to take a young squad to the European Championship, with teenagers Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsi among the players picked by coach Luis de la Fuente on Monday.

Fermín López, the 21-year-old Barcelona forward, also was included in the list of 29 players announced by the coach, who will have to cut three names from the squad for the tournament in Germany. López has yet to make his debut with the national team.

“They have talent and motivation,” De la Fuente said. “They are very versatile players. Fermín will take a leap forward with this call-up. I hope that they will benefit and show all the potential that they have.”

Ayoze Pérez was another of the few surprises on the list, with the 30-year-old Real Betis forward getting his first call-up to the senior squad.

Other strikers included Atletico Madrid’s Álvaro Morata and Real Madrid’s Joselu, as well as the 16-year-old Yamal of Barcelona and 21-year-old Nico Williams of Athletic Bilbao.

Along with Cubarsi, the 17-year-old Barcelona center back, other defenders included Madrid’s Nacho Fernández and 38-year-old veteran Jesús Navas of Sevilla.

Forwards Marco Asensio of Paris Saint-Germain, Pablo Sarabia of Wolverhampton, Brais Méndez of Real Sociedad and Gerard Moreno of Villarreal were left out.

Veteran Atletico midfielder Koke Resurrección also didn’t make the squad.

Spain will be aiming for a record fourth European Championship. It was drawn into Group B with Italy, Albania and Croatia.

“It’s a very difficult group but we are prepared,” De la Fuente said. “We will be fighting to be among the title contenders in the end.”

Spain will play warmups against Andorra and Northern Ireland before heading to Germany.