'Change is coming' at the top says Djokovic
Novak Djokovic said Monday that the recent run of Masters 1000 titles won by NextGen players is clear evidence that "change is coming" at the top of men's tennis and his position as world number one is under threat.
ROME - Novak Djokovic said Monday that the recent run of Masters 1000 titles won by NextGen players is clear evidence that "change is coming" at the top of men's tennis and his position as world number one is under threat.
Two of this year's three Masters champions, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Hubert Hurkacz, have been first-time winners, while Matteo Berrettini reached his first such final at the Madrid Open.
Alexander Zverev returns this week to Rome, the site of his first Masters title in 2017, fresh off a second triumph in the Spanish capital - and fourth overall at this level.
"The results are showing that," Djokovic, who sat out the Madrid tournament, said ahead of his Italian Open defence.
"There are guys like Tsitsipas, Zverev, Berrettini, (Andrey) Rublev that are winning against all of us and playing a lot and building their ranking points. (Daniil) Medvedev as well, of course, and challenging for the top spots.
"Dominic Thiem of course has been there for many years. It's inevitable that it's going to happen. The change on the men's rankings, top of the rankings is coming.
"Whether it's going to happen in a month or a year or whatever, I don't know."
Djokovic in March eclipsed Roger Federer's record for the most weeks spent at number one. This week marks his 320th at the top of the men's game.
But the Serb, who won his 18th major at the Australian Open in February, insisted his focus now is on surpassing Federer's haul of 20 Grand Slams - a record he shares with Rafael Nadal.
"I'm not personally paying too much attention anymore to the rankings as much as I am to my game for the Grand Slams. Those are the biggest focus tournaments right now at this stage of my career.
"I have managed to achieve the milestone of the historic ranking No. 1, and that was the focus up to recently. Now it's more about really trying to peak at Grand Slams and make those count for my career."
Djokovic has played just two events since winning in Melbourne. He lost to Dan Evans in the last 16 at Monte Carlo and was beaten by Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals at home in Belgrade.
He is gearing up for another bid for a second Roland Garros title, as he attempts to become the first man to win all four Grand Slams twice since Rod Laver in 1969.
Djokovic lost to Nadal in straight sets in last year's French Open final.
"I didn't have too many matches. I didn't play so great in Monaco and Belgrade, but I'm hopefully going to change that here in Rome and then another week in Belgrade before the French Open," he said.
"Four tournaments before the French is I think enough in terms of match play.
"So I'm building my fitness and I'm building just my game slowly step by step in order to peak in Paris. That's definitely where I want to play my best."