Rafael Nadal will look for a record 13th French Open title at Roland Garros when play gets underway on Sunday.Second seed Spaniard can equal Roger Federer’s tally of 20 majors if he wins on Parisian clay.However it appears to be the most challenging path towards the title for Rafa this time.Firstly,let us look at his dominance at French Open.
Nadal has an incredible 93-2 record at Roland Garros.The two losses suffered were against Robin Soderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015.Nadal was so brutal on clay courts that he rarely had been tested in Paris.King of Clay had all answers against his opponents with his defensive approach key to winning many matches over the years.Nadal never ever gives up and chases almost every ball thrown to him by aggressive players.His topspin forehand,returns,drop shots and winning long rallies proved headache for his opponents.Not even Roger Federer could get past him at French Open despite meeting 6 times over a decade and a half at French Open.Only Novak Djokovic had a solitary win over Nadal in quarterfinals at 2017 edition.Moreover,conditions also suited Nadal in his past 12 triumphs.Sunny weather,faster courts allowed Rafa to play his natural game.In the build up to every French Open,Nadal had won at least one European clay court tournament before winning the major a dozen times.Nadal has won both Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open at least 11 times.Nadal has lost just 7 sets in the 12 finals he has contested at Roland Garros showing his masterclass.He is three time champion for the past three years.
However this time,it will not be smooth ride for him.
Due to Covid-19 pandemic,Nadal chose to skip US Open.Madrid Open Masters 1000 event was also called off.At Italian Open,he competed on pro tour after almost seven months.Although he won his first two matches comfortably,Rafa lost to Diego Shwartzmann in quarterfinals.Conditions did not favour him as he played under lights and cool weather.Weather is expected to be same in Paris with rain predicted on some days during the fortnight.There will be only 1000 fans allowed in the stadium per day.Not much matches under his belt and cooler weather might trouble Rafa in his march towards the glory.Oranisers have switched to Wilson balls for this year’s event instead of Babolat balls used over the years.Nadal expressed his concern with heavy balls and if it is cold,then it will be a challenge to play on clay courts.Slower balls could affect his play especially his topspin.As far as draw is concerned.Nadal may face Fabio Fognini in 4th round.Italian is one of only 3 active players to beat Nadal more than 3 times on clay.US Open runner up Alexander Zverev is an expected quarterfinal opponent for Nadal.Third seed Dominic Thiem who lost in the past two finals will be eager for revenge if two meet in semifinals.Thiem though has a very tough draw as he meets former US Open champion Marin Cilic in the first round itself.World no.1 Novak Djokovic is fresh from his Italian Open title.He will do everything to win his 18th major.Nadal is still the favourite to bag record extending 13th title at Roland Garros but he has to overcome these hurdles to match Roger Federer in terms of 20 major wins.Nadal fans will be hoping that Rafa bites the French Open trophy one more time.
By Shailesh Padhye