Ahead of his Grand Slam return to the playing surface he calls home, world number two Rafael Nadal discussed how colder weather at a delayed Roland Garros tournament will present the toughest conditions he has faced in Paris, where he’s a twelve-time champion.
Nadal made the decision to skip competing at this year’s US Open due to coronavirus concerns, but the 34-year-old returned in last week’s Rome Masters.
He won in straight sets against US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno-Busta and Dusan Lajovic before crashing out at the quarter-final stage against Diego Schwartzman.
This coming week sees him play his first three-setter since the Australian Open at the end of January, where he lost in the quarter-finals to eventual finalist Dominic Thiem.
It’s been eight months in waiting, but the Spaniard is back and raring to go.
However, the fact that this year’s Roland Garros tournament was postponed – not cancelled like Wimbledon – will be impacted by the colder weather, as we’re now in the autumn months.
The tournament is synonymous with Nadal, but as the clay-court event usually begins in early summer, higher temperatures suit his game. That won’t be the case this year.
The weather forecast for Paris is significantly cooler and rain is expected, meaning conditions will be slower and not exactly suit players like Nadal – preferring faster surfaces where they’re able to utilise more bounce and spin on their shots.
Rain and darker evenings mean some matches will be played indoors with floodlights under Philippe Chatrier’s new roof.
As quoted by BBC Sport, the 34-year-old discussed the drawbacks of this year’s event.
“The weather is so, so cold. That makes it difficult for everyone. The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.
They are the most difficult conditions for me, for many different reasons. Ball is completely different, super slow, heavy. It’s very cold, slow conditions. Of course, the preparation has been less than usual.”
Nadal is scheduled to face Belarus’ world number 83 Egor Gerasimov, who will make his French Open main-draw debut on Monday.
Seeded second behind world no.1 Novak Djokovic, Rafa is on the same side of the draw as recently-crowned US Open champion Thiem.
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He’s beaten Thiem in the last two Roland Garros finals, but should they meet this year, it will be at the semi-final stage.
Thiem, seeded third here, still believes Nadal remains the man to beat in Paris – regardless of the aforementioned circumstances.
“I think he’s always going to be the big-time favourite when he’s playing, when he’s healthy and fit. He won the tournament 12 times, which is just incredible. He’s by far the best clay-court player ever.”
Nadal’s comments could be construed as a convenient forewarning, should he fail to live up to expectations over the coming fortnight.
However, those concerns are genuine and will affect others too – not just him – at a time where fine margins can be the difference between winning and losing in Grand Slam tournaments.
Rafa said he hopes to play with the highest intensity possible, practice with the right attitude and have an opportunity for a deep run. After a lengthy absence, that’s all he can ask for right now.