Rafael Nadal’s mood is ready for the title again. It’s almost natural when the Spaniard travels to his favorite tournament. But this year, his start at the French Open in Paris is accompanied by doubt. The soon-to-be 36-year-old tennis professional jokingly wiped them aside at a press conference at the Stade Roland Garros on Friday. Confronted with Alexander Zverev’s statement that Nadal would play 30 percent better on the Philippe Chatrier pitch in Paris than anywhere else in the world, he had to laugh.
“30 percent better than everywhere or 30 percent better than all other players?” he asked, holding the laughter to his side. “Maybe I was 30 percent better here, but I’m not anymore,” he added almost sentimentally.
A few days ago, it was anything but certain that Nadal would even be able to line up in Paris this year. His foot injury, which has plagued him for years and which he had been out of for several months in 2021, had given him such visible problems in Rome that it seemed possible that Roland Garros could be canceled. And even if he starts, it remains to be seen what he is actually capable of achieving. He is certainly not the absolute top favorite this year.
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He played only five matches on clay ahead of Paris in 2022, losing two of them. He traveled to the French capital without a tournament victory on his favorite ground and with an injury that leaves questions unanswered. “What happened in Rome happens again and again during training. I was in pain for a few days afterwards, but I feel better now. Otherwise I would not be here,” he tried not to overemphasize the subject.
And after all, he’s already familiar with the situation where 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 have a chance there,” Nadal explained. At the Australian Open in Melbourne, he sensationally won the title earlier this year, his 21st at one of the four major tournaments.
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 own body stopped him once again. A fatigue fracture in the rib area, which was incurred during the tournament, then led to a break of several weeks and he was only able to make his comeback in Madrid. “There is no doubt that other players are in better shape than I am at the moment. But you never know what will happen in the next few days,” Nadal said.
He has already won the world’s biggest clay court tournament 13 times, but he does not want to talk about a 14th title before his first match against Australian Jordan Thompson: “My real goal is to train well and be competitive from the first round. . ” Already in the second round, there may be a repeat of the 2017 final against the long-injured Swiss Stan Wawrinka.
It should be even harder for the Spaniard in the second week if he achieves it. A duel with Novak Djokovic is possible in the quarterfinals. The defending champion is the only player to have defeated Nadal twice at the French Open, most recently in last year’s semi-final in the top division. There is also Alexander Zverev, for whom the first round against Austrian Sebastian Ofner awaits on Sunday, and the young star Carlos Alcaraz on Nadal’s tableau half. “In my head, it doesn’t matter to me. But of course, when you look at these names, it’s a very difficult draw in terms of tennis, says Nadal.
“I’m not injured, I’m a player living with an injury.”
Overall, the Spaniard looked relaxed in the days leading up to the tournament. He knows for himself how he and his body are doing. After his painful departure in Rome against the Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who was otherwise absolutely controllable for him on sand, he said only briefly and well: “I am not injured, I am a player living with an injury.” Maybe it helps Nadal to know that every tournament he can still play in an advanced tennis age is in itself a small triumph for him.
Paris is also special to him this year for another reason. The final of the Champions League in football takes place here next Saturday and it is no secret that Real Madrid is his heart club. Then he meets Liverpool at the Stade de France. He was asked if Nadal would watch the match live at the stadium. He emphatically replied, “There’s nothing more important to me than playing here at Roland Garros. That’s clear, right ?!” After a short pause, he added with a mischievous smile: “But of course I’ve had my tickets for a long time.”