It looked like a very big ‘if’. If Daniil Medvedev could win the Italian Open then he could get to world No. 2 and leapfrog Novak Djokovic in the rankings to become the second seed for the French Open.
Medvedev had not won a match in three previous visits to Rome. But he shocked even himself by claiming his first clay-court title in very impressive fashion, overcoming Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals and then Holger Rune in the final.
Medvedev’s win means that he will be the No. 2 seed at the French Open behind world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
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With 14-time champion Rafael Nadal missing for the first time since 2004, this year’s French Open was already looking like one of the most open in recent memory.
The results in Rome only added to the intrigue.
While Alcaraz went out early and Djokovic lost in the quarters, Medvedev took out four seeds and dropped just one set to claim the title.
With the ranking points lifting Medvedev to become the second seed for the French Open, he will be on the opposite half to Alcaraz when the draw is made on Thursday.
Djokovic, meanwhile, could be drawn on the same half of the draw as Alcaraz, which would mean a potential semi-final meeting. Djokovic and Alcaraz have not met since their first clash in Madrid last year, which Alcaraz won in three sets.
Last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud is the fourth seed ahead of Tsitsipas and new world No. 6 Rune.
Reflecting on what getting to No. 2 will mean for him in Paris, Medvedev said: “If I would be No. 3, I would definitely play one of Alcaraz or Novak if I am in the semi-finals. You definitely have one of them in your draw.
"I guess it's better to be No. 2 and get the chance. Carlos and I [will not] play for sure before the final, and Novak maybe 50 per cent chance he's not in your draw.
“At the same time, I haven't been further than the quarters in Roland-Garros."
Medvedev failed to win a match on his first four appearances at the French Open, before making the quarter-finals in 2021 and the fourth round last year.
But with a first clay title in his pocket, how will he fare this time in Paris?
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Medvedev: I don’t believe it
It wasn’t that long ago that Medvedev said he hated “everything” about clay.
Even though his view on the surface seems more positive these days, he says that at the start of the Italian Open he would have given himself a 2% chance of winning the title – “normally it would be zero but I was feeling so good that if you asked maybe it would have been 2%”.
But his performances in Rome, particularly in the semi-finals and final, have to mark him out as a challenger at the French Open.
“I’m feeling great,” he told the Tennis Channel. “It’s the best week on clay in my life. It’s always great to come into a Grand Slam with a lot of confidence.
“But you always have strong opponents there, it’s out of five sets. Need to be 100 per cent. That’s what I'm gonna try to do.
“I still have not that big expectations in a way, but I know that I can do better than I thought so, so that’s good.”
Medvedev, who was called the “Emperor of Rome” on social media by Boris Becker, has now won 20 titles in 20 different cities.
While that includes a Grand Slam title at the 2021 US Open and Nitto ATP Finals triumph, Medvedev says this victory in Rome is up amongst his finest.
“In a way, [this is my] No. 1 [success], just because it's the first one on clay and it's unbelievable. I would never have thought I would be able to make this.
“Then I have to be honest, a Grand Slam is always bigger. US Open is always No. 1 there. This one is special because I didn't think it was going to be able to happen, [that I was] going to be able to make it.
“I still kind of don't believe…Not that I won it, but I played so well this week. I don't believe it. The way I played, I'm really happy. Happy to have this trophy back home in some time.”
Rune picks Djokovic as favourite
If Medvedev is among the favourites for the French Open, so too is Rune.
He’s made three clay finals this season – Monte Carlo, Munich and Rome – and beaten Djokovic and Ruud over the course of the last week.
It was at last year’s French Open where Rune, 20, first announced himself as he beat Tsitsipas on his way to the quarters, where he lost to Ruud in a heated contest.
Asked who he thinks is the favourite in Paris, Rune said: “I still think Novak is the main favourite for the event.
"He's the one with the most Slams of who's playing, the most experienced. Then we have Alcaraz. We have Medvedev. We have a lot of guys.
“I think if I have to pick one favourite, I'll probably pick Novak.”
The French Open starts on May 28.
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