Rafael Nadal: “Yes, I didn’t have ideal preparation. But the same happened in Australia and I put myself in a position to have a chance”
The 13-time champion said he’s intent on making himself as competitive as possible despite niggling foot pain
When Rafael Nadal bent double during the latter stages of his third-round battle with Denis Shapovalov in Rome just over a week ago, the chances of him being in any kind of shape for a tilt at yet another Roland-Garros title seemed remote.
But time is a healer, even for his chronic left foot, which almost ended his career before it had begun in 2005 and which he has managed, incredibly well, throughout his two nearly two decades on Tour, yielding a record 21 Grand Slam titles, 13 of them in Paris.
And though the foot remains an issue, Nadal is in Paris to be competitive, and if he’s competitive then he has a chance to win again.
“What happened (in Rome) I think everybody knows, and I talked after the match very open about what’s going on,” a smiling Nadal told reporters at Roland-Garros on Friday, having arrived in the capital earlier in the week for practice sessions that have been packed out with fans from the start.
“But at the same time I said is something that can be better in the near future, no? And I hope that’s the case here.”
Nadal seemed in good spirits on Friday but says he’s dealing with the pain on a constant basis. Sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it’s tough and others, like in Rome, it’s “crazy”.
“The pain is there always, no?” he said. “It’s not about (if the pain is) going to disappear now. It’s about if the pain is high and strong enough to allow me to play with real chances or not.
“I answered of course the questions, and I will answer the questions, but I will not be talking all the time about my foot even if I understand that it’s something that’s normal, because after what happened in Rome.
“But in my case, is something that I live every day with that, so is nothing new for me and is not a big surprise. So I am here just to play tennis and to try to make the best result possible here in Roland Garros, no? And if I don’t believe that this thing can happen, probably I will not be here.
“So I am just working as much as I can, and practicing as good as possible. My real goal is just put me in a position that I am healthy and playing enough good tennis to give myself good chances.”
“Same thing happened in Australia”
Nadal may not be pain-free and he’s also short of match practice after taking six weeks out because of the rib he fractured in Indian Wells in March.
“But the way he began the year, winning a record 21st Grand Slam title in stunning fashion, coming from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in the final, makes him believe that he could yet do something great in Paris, even if he’s drawn in the same quarter as Novak Djokovic and the same half as Carlos Alcaraz.
“Unfortunately here I didn’t have the preparation that I would like, and unfortunately that rib fracture stop a little bit the great moment that I was having since the season start,” he admitted.
“But in sport, things can change quick, and only thing that I can do is try to be ready if that change happens. No, today looks difficult and looks that there are players that are in better shape than me, without a doubt, and is true today, but you never know what can happen in the next couple of days.
“Same happened in Australia, and I put myself in a position to have a chance. And here is no different. In the case that that can happen, yes, difficult, yes too, but only thing I have to do is believe in my chances, believe in my daily work, and then stay positive and believe in my real chances.”
Nadal will be a crowd favourite, as always, in Paris, but the Spaniard is probably not going to be asked to play a night session on the first Saturday, should he play that day, since it would clash with his beloved Real Madrid taking on Liverpool in the Champions League final in Paris at the same time.
“Well, I am here to play Roland Garros more than anything else, no? But of course I have my tickets already,” he said, smiling.
This year is one of the first that Nadal is not the bookmaker’s favourite for the men’s title, with Djokovic and young Spanish sensation Alcaraz above him in the pecking order. The 13-times champion, who turns 36 in the first week of June, doesn’t care about that.
“For sure (I am) not, because the results says that I am not, but is something that never worried much to me, no?” he said.
“Probably when I was a favourite, I never considered myself the favourite, no? Of course (I am) one of the candidates. I considered myself during all my tennis career one of the candidates here, because I achieve tournaments before here, and now on Friday, before the tournament start, I don’t think I am the favourite at all. But you never know what can happen.”