Rafael Nadal’s mood is ready to win the title again. It’s almost when the Spaniard travels to his favorite tournament. But his start this year at the French Open in Paris is accompanied by doubts. The soon-to-be 36-year-old tennis pros joked about them at a press conference at Roland Garros on Friday. Faced with Alexander Zverev’s statement that Nadal would play 30 per cent better at Stade Philippe Chatrier in Paris than anywhere else in the world, he had to smile.
“30 percent better than all the places or 30 percent better than all the other players?” He asked and laughed beside him. “I might have been 30 percent better here, but I’m not anymore,” he added, almost emotionally.
A few days ago, it was not certain that Nadal would be able to compete in Paris this year. A foot injury, which he has struggled with for years, and which he has been out of for months in 2021, caused such obvious problems at Roma that Roland Garros seemed possible. And even if he has already started, it remains to be seen what he is actually capable of achieving. He’s definitely not the absolute top candidate this year.
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He played only five claycourt matches against Paris in 2022 and lost two of them. He traveled to the French capital without winning the championship on his favorite surface and with an injury that left unanswered questions. “What happened in Rome happens again and again in training. I was in pain for a few days after that, but I’m better now. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” he tried not to overemphasize the topic.
And after all, he’s already familiar with the situation as he’s competing in a Grand Slam tournament without proper preparation. “The same thing happened in Australia and I put myself in a position to get a chance there,” Nadal explained. At the Australian Open in Melbourne, he won the title dramatically earlier this year, his twenty-first in a Grand Slam.
He then continued his incredible winning streak, winning in Acapulco and also reaching the final in Indian Wells. There, along with winner Taylor Fritz, his body stopped him again. The rib fatigue fracture he sustained during the tournament led to a hiatus of several weeks, and he was only able to return in Madrid. “There is no doubt that the other players are in better shape than I am now. But you never know what will happen in the next few days,” Nadal said.
He has already won the world’s largest claycourt championship 13 times, but does not want to talk about his 14th title before his first match against Australia’s Jordan Thompson: “My actual goal is to train well and be competitive from the first round already in the second round I can There will be a repeat of the 2017 final against long-injured Stan Wawrinka.
It should be even more difficult for the Spaniard in the second week, if he makes it. A duel with Novak Djokovic is possible in the quarter-finals. The defending champion is the only player to have defeated Nadal twice at the French Open, most recently in the Ligue 1 semi-finals last year. There is also Alexander Zverev, who is set to face Austrian Sebastian Offner in the first round on Sunday, and Young star Carlos Alcaraz in half of Nadal’s plate. “In my head, I don’t care. But of course, when you see these names, a tie is very difficult purely from a tennis point of view,” Nadal said.
“I’m not injured, I’m an injured player.”
In general, the Spaniard seemed relaxed in the days leading up to the tournament. He himself knows how things are going with him and with his body. After his painful departure in Rome against Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who was completely controllable on the sand, he only said succinctly: “I am not injured, I am a player with an injury.” Maybe Nadal will help. Knowing that every tournament, which he could still play at an advanced tennis age, is in itself a small victory for him.
Paris is also special for him this year for another reason. The UEFA Champions League final will be played here next Saturday and it is no secret that Real Madrid is his heart. Then he meets with Liverpool at the Stade de France. He was asked if Nadal would watch the match live on the field. He replied emphatically: “There is nothing more important to me than playing here at Roland Garros. It’s obvious, isn’t it?!”” After a short pause, he added with a sly smile: “But of course I had my ticket for a long time.”
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