As the tennis tour shifts to the clay season, all eyes will turn towards World No 2 Rafael Nadal. The 34-year-old’s success on the red dirt has been nearly unchallenged, and the same is expected this time as well from the ‘King of Clay.’
The 19-time Grand Slam champion, who has won 12 of his majors at the French Open, opted to skip the US Open this year, choosing instead to prepare for Roland Garros, which is scheduled to start on September 27.
Subsequently, his biggest rival on the tour this year, Novak Djokovic (Roger Federer has been ruled out of the 2020 season due to knee surgery), has already claimed that Nadal will be the favourite to win the clay Slam.
“Let’s see how it turns out. Rafa obviously decided to stay on clay and practice,” Djokovic, the World No 1 said ahead of the ATP 1000 Masters in Rome.
“Surely that gives him more advantage, but even if he didn’t practice for that long on clay he would still be the number one favourite in Roland Garros or any other clay tournament, because he’s just Rafa.”
Nadal decided to skip the US hard court swing due to health and safety concerns, meaning that the last time he played a competitive match was when he won the ATP 500 title in Acapulco back in February.
Because of the long hiatus, his former coach and uncle Toni Nadal asserts that the Spaniard’s run this year will be complicated.
“Rafael, he played in Acapulco, it was the last tournament. That was in February, from February until now, that’s six-seven months without playing any tournaments,” Toni Nadal said in a virtual interview with Roland Garros.
“It’s complicated. But at the end, I hope that Rafael can win again. I hope that he can make a big effort and to try to win the next Roland Garros. And if this is not possible, then Rafael has to prepare for the next year.”
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) September 15, 2020
The Spaniard meanwhile travelled to the Italian capital last Wednesday to prepare for his first competitive match since February 29 due to the tour being suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I arrived in plenty of time to try and have the right practices,” Nadal, the two-time defending champion of the Rome Masters said in a pre-tournament press conference. In his opening match, he takes on compatriot and US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta.
“You need matches to feel 100 per cent… I’m excited about going back to competition, without big expectations. I know I have a tough first [match] against Pablo. He’s playing great. So let’s see, it’s going to be a good test.
“(My) expectation is to always go on court and try to feel competitive. That’s the first goal. Go on court, feel (that I’m) competitive, and then I will see how I feel and what kind of goals I can look for.”