T.There are arguably worse cities here than Paris to end a romance, but if Rafael Nadal and Roland Garros initiate divorce proceedings during the next two weeks, it will be a painful end for the sport’s longest lasting relationship.
The Spaniard is angry with his guests, no doubt. His guests seem indifferent. And Nadal̵
While these older rivals will most likely be the last of the 128 contenders standing at Court Philippe Chatrier two Sundays from now, the journey could take more for 34-year-old Nadal than 33-year-old Djokovic. Certainly, the betting sentiment has been with the Serbian since Diego Schwartzman beat Nadal in the quarter-finals in Rome last week. And nearly half of online bettors this weekend are backing Djokovic, with only a third remaining with the defending champion.
Nadal wasn’t alone in wondering why the tournament went from the lighter, more “spinning” Babolat ball, which fits his vicious forehand, to the heavier Wilson, which doesn’t. “This is the first time we have used Wilson balls on clay,” said Djokovic. “I agree that the balls are heavy. But it’s probably also because it’s almost October and it’s very cold. Clay is also heavy and wet.
“Is it difficult to say if the ball is heavy in general or is it because we are playing in these slow and heavy conditions? We have to accept it. That’s why we all came a little earlier to try to get used to the new balls and conditions that are very different from what we are used to at Roland Garros “.
If Nadal dismisses unseeded Egor Gerasimov on Monday and overtakes Dan Evans among others (the British No.1 plays Kei Nishikori on Sunday) to reach the quarter-finals, where US Open runner-up Alexander Zverev is his likely opponent, it may be enough to make a reconciliation with the tournament.
In addition, the accountants of the Fédération Française de Tennis will be happy with whoever wins, as the winning bid for the championship ball was almost certainly much larger than that of the holder in charge, and the uninsured tournament, heavily studded with an account of renovation of 160 million euros for the central field, is in dire need of cash.
Additionally, the site will be a ghost town for two weeks rather than the usual crowded marketplace, which may explain why Guy Forget, the affable tournament director over four years of costly venue changes, held out until the last minute before local authorities forced him to cut the crowd from 5,000 paying customers a day to 1,000, in line with restrictions across the capital and the country due to a worrying rise in coronavirus infections.
While the king embraces fear and doubt, Dominic Thiem, a serious suitor, could hardly be happier on the top half of Nadal’s side of the draw. “I want to do the best I can in every single tournament I play, especially here at Roland Garros,” said the new US Open champion as he prepared for his first round match against Marin Cilic. “I spent four crazy years with two semifinals, two finals [against Nadal]. I love the conditions here. I love the whole tournament. “
If Nadal, who has played twice in six months, is vulnerable on his beloved ground, Djokovic looks solid, as he has won four titles (including his 18th Grand Slam) and lost one of 32 games in 2020 – and one by suspension in New York two weeks ago.
The number one in the world was emotionally red towards the end of the most difficult season in the sport’s recent history – and says he will do everything to not blow up again – but he hasn’t lost sight of the prize within his reach: overtaking. Roger Federer’s record of 20 slam titles. The Swiss, who rests on his healing knees, can only watch from afar as Nadal tries to get close to him if he can keep Djokovic and younger opponents at bay.
Mats Wilander, who has won three of his seven majors in Paris and comments for Eurosport, says: “The temperatures in Paris now and over the next couple of weeks will be colder than normal, which isn’t great for someone spinning the ball,” like Nadal. Novak doesn’t care if it’s cold or hot. I think he’s the favorite, just ahead of Nadal and Thiem. “
As for Andy Murray, his French adventure could be finis Sunday before sunset if Stan Wawrinka’s knees are in better shape than the Scotsman’s side. Both are closer to retirement than a fourth slam, but they will bring the best they left to Chatrier in the final match of the first day.
Murray says of the 35-year-old Swiss: “We always got along well, we had no problems. In recent years we have probably been closer. I text him a few, he text me after games and tournaments, which would not have been six, seven years ago.
“We both had various injury problems in the same period. There is mutual respect. I am happy that he was able to return to playing tennis at the top after a bad knee problem. He’s a great, great player and a good guy. “
The former world number 1 added: “What I’d like is six months of constant practice, tournaments, rest, so the schedule is fluid. The difficult thing is where I’m classified now, for example , I can be fine this week and then I draw Stan in the first round – or Djokovic. In Cincinnati [last month] I beated [Alexander] Zverev, who was seeded three.
“You are playing with the best players at the beginning of the tournaments and with the two-year ranking system it is much more difficult to improve your ranking. Nobody loses points every week. To get to 50 in the world, the points you will need will be much more than they normally are. Players are adding to their points tally, while me [am not].
“Apart from Antwerp and the points at the end of the year, I hardly have any points on the computer. This is the thing that will be challenging: make sure you show up for tournaments, ready to play and win against the best players at the start of the events. You rely a little on the draws and hopefully get some breaks along the way.
“I am aware that it will be really difficult to get back up there, but I feel that if I can five, six months in which I can compete in tournaments. I want. I will definitely win other tournaments and have other good wins. “