• Spaniard practised in front of thousands of fans at Roland Garros without any obvious discomfort
Rafael Nadal has played down concerns over the chronic foot issue that resurfaced in Rome last week as he prepares to launch his bid for a 14th French Open title. The Spaniard limped to a third-round loss to Denis Shapovalov at the Italian Open, but practised in front of thousands of fans at Roland Garros on Wednesday without any obvious discomfort.
“There is nothing to recover,” Nadal told reporters yesterday. “What happened in Rome is something that happened very often in my practices. I was suffering after that for a couple of days, but I feel better. That’s why I’m here.”
Nadal began the year with a 20-match winning run, capturing a second Australian Open title to claim a record 21st Grand Slam and move ahead of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
The 35-year-old then missed six weeks with a rib injury sustained during his run to the final in Indian Wells, where he suffered his first loss of the season to Taylor Fritz.
Nadal complained of a recurring foot problem in Rome, but he appears confident it can be managed in Paris. “The pain is there always. It’s not 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,” he said.
“It’s something that I live every day with, so it’s 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. And if I don’t believe that this thing can happen, probably I will not be here.”
Nadal, defending champion Djokovic and new teenage star Carlos Alcaraz have been drawn in the same half of the tournament. “In terms of tennis, of course the top of the draw you see the names, of course is a very tough one. But we are in a Grand Slam, and you never know what can happen,” he said.
World number one Djokovic and Nadal, ranked five, are seeded to meet as early as the quarter-finals. Nadal lost to Djokovic in the semi-finals 12 months ago, but has an astonishing record of 105 victories against just three defeats at the tournament since his title-winning debut in 2005.
He goes into the French Open without a clay title to his name in 2022, and insisted he is not the favourite for a title he has won 13 of the past 17 years. “No, I mean, for sure not, because the results says that I am not, but is something that never worried much to me,” said Nadal. “Probably when I was a favourite, I never considered myself the favourite.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev believes Nadal plays “30% better” at Roland Garros as he backed either the 13-time winner Djokovic to triumph at the French Open. No 3 three Zverev, who is seeded to meet Djokovic in the semi-finals, said Nadal seems to have shrugged off the recurrence of a foot injury which saw him limp to an early defeat in Rome last week. “I just watched Rafa practise and it’s funny because all of a sudden his forehand is just 20 miles an hour faster. He moves lighter on his feet,” said Zverev. “There is something about this court that makes him play 30% better, just being on this court.”
Spain’s Rafael Nadal (right) greets compatriot Carlos Alcaraz during a practice session in Paris yesterday, ahead of the French Open.