PARIS: It’s spring time in Paris. There’s moisture in the air. The leaves are green, and the jackets light. The terre battue or broken earth wears a rich look. Roland Garros looks primed and Rafael Nadal is tipped to take his 12th French Open crown. Everything is as it should be.
But that wasn’t the case seven days ago.
Having lost three successive semifinals on clay in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal, was without a title this year until his last stop on the red stuff at the Foro Italico. Seeded No.2 here, and in the bottom half of the draw, he appeared to be swimming upstream.
The Spaniard, a 17-time major winner, wasn’t playing badly. The 32-year-old, who had cut short his American hardcourt swing because of a bad knee, had sufficiently recovered, but appeared to be mentally stuck in January’s Australian Open final when he couldn’t get going against the rampaging world No.1 Novak Djokovic. In matches that mattered, Nadal was trying to get his game going, but the fight seemed lost.
If there’s a type of player the Mallorcan muscleman has struggled against it is those who either dwell in his head or the ones with a foot through the door a la Nick Kyrgios who has a 3-3 win loss record against him, having won their only meeting of 2019 in Acapulco. Another of that irreverent tribe is Italian Fognini, who has four wins over Nadal in 15 meetings. His arch-rival Djokovic has a 28-26 record against Nadal, but since 2015, in 12 outings, Nadal has won just three encounters, all on clay, while Djokovic has won on all surfaces, including clay.
The one who may have temporarily punctured his psyche, maybe the man who has scripted the biggest turnaround against Nadal, is his oldest rival Roger Federer, who he could play in the semifinals here. Federer, seeded third, plays Lorenzo Sonego in the opening round on Sunday, his first match in Roland Garros in three years. Nadal may lead the head-to-head 23-15, but since Basel in 2015, Federer has won six straight times, including the walkover in Indian Wells in March.
Nadal’s victory over Djokovic in Rome and the Masters crown that came with it helped the 11-time Roland Garros winner repair the season even if temporarily. But whether that will hold on different surfaces, is anybody’s guess.
Nadal, who takes on 27-year-old German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann on Sunday, is aiming to play it again in the French capital. “I am trying to keep practising the same way that we are doing the last couple of weeks,” he said. “I feel myself playing well, my goal is just to keep playing at that level.”
Djokovic, 31, who will open against a next generation player in the towering Pol Hubert Hurkacz, picked Nadal as favourite to win a 12th title here.
“It wouldn’t be fair to pick anybody else but him as the main favorite. He has won this tournament so many times. He has lost two times in his career on Parisian clay,” Djokovic said. “We had a good match in Rome. He was a better player. Was just too strong. I felt like I had a fantastic couple weeks in Madrid and Rome, and I probably ran out of gas a little bit in the finals with a couple of long matches and late-night finishes. Overall it’s been very positive weeks, and it’s a great lead-up to what’s coming up here.”
Source : timesofindia