Who’s the men’s favourite for Roland-Garros? Not me, says Djokovic; not me, says Nadal
It seems no one wants to stick their neck up above the parapet and say they are the man to beat at this year’s event
Take a quick look at the bookmakers’ odds for the men’s singles at Roland-Garros and you’ll discover that world No 1 Novak Djokovic is top of the list, followed by teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz and 13-times champion Rafael Nadal.
Ask the players, though, and you’ll hear different. Regardless of form coming in, it seems none of them want to be thought of as favourite, which brings with it its own pressure.
“We talk about favourites for Roland Garros and clay, you know that Nadal always has to be right at the top, because of his records, particularly in this tournament,” defending champion Djokovic told reporters at Roland-Garros on Friday.
“And then, you know, you have Alcaraz, (who) obviously is the story of men’s tennis in the last four or five months (for) a big reason. He’s had some tremendous leaps forward on rankings and the results that he’s been achieving are phenomenal for someone of his age. He has made a quantum jump really forward in the last five, six months.
“I feel I am always in that contention to fight for any Grand Slam trophy. I believe in my own abilities to get far and to fight for, you know, one of the most prestigious trophies in the world of tennis. As a defending champion of course more so, to believe I can do it again. Reliving the memories from last year is something that obviously gives me goose bumps and motivation to try to replicate that, if I can say that.”
Nadal: “Probably when I was favourite, I never considered myself as favourite”
Thirteen-time champion Nadal comes into the event under a cloud with doubts about how his chronic left foot, which wilted in Rome, will stand up to two weeks of competition.
Nadal and Djokovic are scheduled to meet in the quarter-finals and while Djokovic may feel Nadal should be favourite, the Spaniard says he is most certainly not.
“For sure (I am) not, because the results says that I am not,” Nadal said, before going on to explain that who is favourite and who’s not has never been something that worried him too much.
Now on Friday, before the tournament start, I don’t think I am the favourite at all.Rafael Nadal
“Probably when I was a favourite, I never considered myself the favourite, no,” he said.
“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.”
As for Alcaraz, he didn’t face the media on Friday but the 19-year-old’s tennis has been doing the talking in 2022 with his first big title in Miami quickly followed by victory in Madrid, where he beat Nadal, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev in consecutive days.
The two players that won “28 times” (Tsitsipas)
Last year’s runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is in the other half of the draw to Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz, believes the tournament is more open than usual.
“We have two players in our draw that have won it, I’m not sure one of them how many, but the other at least 28 times, but another one probably three or four, I’m not sure,” he said, with a smile (Nadal won 13 and Djokovic 2 editor’s note). “So of course the stakes are higher on their side. They have had higher success here.
“Then we have other guys that are slightly younger and very hungry. I guess me included too. We have someone (Alcaraz) that has had a great run in the last couple of tournaments that is under 20 years old, and he seems like he plays tennis just because he enjoys the sport.
“He doesn’t play it for the money or for the fame or for any of that. He just enjoys genuinely being on the court and doing his best. So there is a lot of competition on the men’s side, but I think it’s equal.”
Djokovic : experience is key
Djokovic said experience is key when it comes to managing expectations over a two-week event.
“Obviously every season and every year is different,” he said. “There is so many players that want to put their hands on that trophy in a few weeks’ time. I’m very much aware of it.
“I think that experience of being on the tour for such a long time helps to know how to spend energy on the court match after match, bring out the right intensity, manage everything that happens off the court, as well, and peak at the right time, so to say.
You know, believing in myself because I have done it before and I know what it takes, so I’m excited to hopefully have another great year.Novak Djokovic
“Best-of-five, obviously things are different. Grand Slam I think awakens so much motivation and emotions in a tennis player. It’s the dream of many tennis players to win a Grand Slam. That’s why, you know, you cannot underestimate anyone and probably not compare the performances of those players on any other tournament with the potential performance here in a slam.
“Knowing that, that’s kind of my approach with respect towards the players and the game and the tournament, but, you know, believing in myself because I have done it before and I know what it takes, so I’m excited to hopefully have another great year.”
Just don’t tell him he’s the favourite.