Novak Djokovic supports Justin Gimelstob while Thiem favorites Rafael Nadal

novak djokovic supporting justin gimelsob thiem favoriting rafael nadal madrid 2019

Novak Djokovic stepped up to give support to Justin Gimelstob’s eventual return to an influential role in tennis following his recent resignation from the ATP board of directors.

Speaking Monday at the Madrid Open, Djokovic said Gimelstob did the right thing by stepping down after being sentenced in a U.S. court for attacking a former friend.

Djokovic also said he would be OK with soon-to-leave ATP executive chairman and president Chris Kermode seeking a return to that job now that Gimelstob is no longer on the decision-making board that oversees the men’s tennis circuit.

On Sunday in Madrid, Roger Federer suggested that Kermode – whose contract runs out at the end of the year – should perhaps “be put back into the mix”. Asked about this issue on Monday, Djokovic replied: “I actually think that technically he has the right to be a candidate officially for another mandate… if this happens, yeah, why not… I think several companies have been engaged now in the recruiting process, so hopefully we can have quality candidates.”

Gimelstob is an ex-player, coach and TV commentator who pleaded no contest last month and was sentenced to three years of probation, 60 days of community service and a year’s worth of anger management classes. Prosecutors said the 42-year-old American attacked Randall Kaplan as they trick-or-treated with their kids in Los Angeles on Halloween in 2017.

Kermode’s departure at the end of 2019 was announced in March after a vote by the ATP board.

Djokovic called Gimelstob’s resignation, announced last week in a Facebook post, “a wise decision,” adding, “the whole case was just posing so much pressure and obstacles for the tour, in general.”

“It’s unfortunate, because I think he has been probably the biggest asset that players had in the last 10-plus years that he’s been on the tour, representing players,” Djokovic said. “But at the same time, these are kind of unfortunate circumstances, and he needs to go back and deal with that — deal with that case and try to find the right balance and the right state of mind — before he eventually tries to come back.”

Rather than lying low during his final six months on the ATP board, Gimelstob led his fellow player representatives – who include his former Tennis Channel colleague David Egdes – in a controversial vote in Indian Wells to deny a contract renewal to the tour’s president Chris Kermode.

dominic thiem giving bulge support to rafael nadal at madrid open 2019

Dominic Thiem Sees Rafael Nadal As Favorite: Madrid Open 2019

Rafael Nadal hadn’t started the clay-court season with so many setbacks in four years.

Not since 2015 had Nadal arrived at the Madrid Open without having won a title either in Monte Carlo or Barcelona, the tournaments that mark the start of the clay swing in Europe.

That year, Nadal was coming off a series of injuries and ended up not reaching the final of either tournament. He also didn’t win the title in Madrid, Rome and the French Open, dropping out of the top five in the rankings for the first time in a decade.

After a disappointing start to this year, where he is 17-4 overall and without a title, the second-ranked Nadal remains upbeat despite straight-sets defeats in the semifinals at both Monte Carlo and Barcelona — tournaments he has won a record 11 times.

He lost to Italian Fabio Fognini in the semifinals at Monte Carlo, and was almost routed 6-0 in the second set when trailing to Fognini by 5-0 and 40-0.

Then he was beaten by hard-hitting Austrian Dominic Thiem in the Barcelona semifinals.

Still, the 32-year-old Spaniard saw signs of encouragement at finding his rhythm again.

“I really believe that I made very good improvements to create a good base to try to achieve my goals,” he said after losing to Thiem.

Nadal will be trying to win his third straight French Open title — and record-extending 12th overall — at the May 26-June 9 French Open.

Thiem, the runner-up in Madrid to Nadal in 2017 and Alexander Zverev last year, says Nadal is the favorite at any clay-court tournament.

“As long as Rafa is playing, he will always be the No. 1 favorite,” Thiem said on Sunday. “He’s by far the best player ever on this surface.”

Nadal has won a clay-court title in each of the last 15 seasons. The 17-time Grand Slam winner is an eight-time finalist in Madrid, with the last of his five titles coming in 2017.

He was defeated by Thiem in straight sets in the quarterfinals last year — one of Thiem’s four career victories against him on clay.

Nadal will start this year’s campaign against 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime after he beat fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov 6-2, 7-6 in the first round. Auger-Aliassime is one of the standouts on tour this season, having reached the final in Rio and the semifinals in Miami.

The other half of the Madrid draw has top-seeded Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who will be making his return to clay-court tournaments after two seasons.

The 37-year-old Federer, a three-time champion in Madrid, is preparing to make his first French Open appearance since 2015.

“I have not high expectations in some ways, but at the same time I also know that things are possible,” Federer said Sunday. “I’m happy also that the decision I took last, I guess around December, when I started feeling like I definitely want to do the clay, that it was the right decision.”

The 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer hasn’t played on clay since Rome in 2016, but is looking for his third title of the season to add to his triumphs in Dubai and Miami. The only other player with two titles this season is Thiem, who beat Federer in the Indian Wells final. Federer and Thiem could meet in the quarterfinals in Madrid.

Zverev did not drop his serve en route to winning here last year, but the imposing German is out of form. He has won only eight matches all year and has not won a tournament, losing his only final to Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco.

He will start this year’s tournament against David Ferrer, the veteran Spaniard who is retiring following the tournament in Madrid.

Petra Kvitova will defend her title in the women’s event. The second-seeded Czech is a three-time champion in Madrid and the most successful woman at the tournament with 27 wins and six losses. Naomi Osaka is the top-seeded player this year in Madrid.