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Novak Djokovic’s surprising exit in Rome after an unusual incident opens the door for Jannik Sinner to become world number one in Paris

Novak Djokovic’s surprise exit from the Italian Open on Sunday could prove to be a defining moment in the race for the world number one spot, with the top-ranked Serb preparing to defend his title at the French Open and Jannik Sinner poised to overtake him.

Two days after he was accidentally hit in the head by a water bottle while signing autographs in Rome, Djokovic suffered his first loss in the tournament he has won six times following a 6-2, 6-3 loss in the third round Alejandro Tabilo.

Djokovic will remain 1,090 points ahead of Sinner before the second Grand Slam of the year 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 move on remain top.

“It was a very unfortunate, unfortunate situation… this guy was leaning over the fence and the bottle fell out of his backpack and landed on my head,” Djokovic said, reflecting on the freak accident that affected his chances of breaking away from Sinner , impaired.

“It was unexpected. I didn’t even look up. Then I felt a very strong blow on the head. That really impressed me. After that I got the medical attention. I spent half an hour, an hour full of nausea, dizziness, blood and many went through different things.

“I managed to sleep well. I had headache. Yesterday everything was fine, so I thought it’s fine. Maybe it’s okay. Maybe that’s not it.

“The way I felt on the pitch was just like another player had walked in my shoes. No rhythm, no tempo, no balance at all on any beat. It’s a bit worrying.”

Jannik Sinner could become number 1 in the world by reaching the final of the French Open. Photo: Reuters

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

Even if Djokovic wins at Roland Garros, Sinner could become number one in the world for the first time on June 10th by reaching the final.

The 22-year-old Sinner, who missed Rome because of a hip injury suffered in Madrid, will defend just 45 points in Paris but faces a race against time to return to full fitness.

Djokovic had already endured a rocky season before the bottle incident, as the Serb’s bid to win a record 11th title at the Australian Open was dashed by eventual champion Sinner in the semifinals.

He then lost to lucky loser Luca Nardi in the third round at Indian Wells before being overtaken by Casper Ruud in the Monte Carlo semi-final, sparking fears among fans that his aura of invincibility was slowly fading.

Despite winning three of the four Grand Slams last year, Djokovic parted ways with his long-time coach Goran Ivanisevic and fitness trainer Marco Panichi to regain his best form ahead of Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Paris Olympics.

Talk of a final decline may be premature and Djokovic could silence critics by winning a fourth title at the clay-court major, but he said things need to improve quickly after going without for the first time since 2018 in May trophy.

“Everything has to get better so that I at least have a chance of winning it,” Djokovic added.