French Open leading seeds warn against writing off Rafael Nadal
Paris, May 23 (IANS)
Maria Sharapova slammed the "disrespectful" decision on Friday to pick nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal as the sixth seed despite his domination of the event, a media report said on Saturday.
Nadal will kick off his defending campaign at Roland Garros as the sixth seed after having slipped to the seventh in the ATP world rankings. The 28-year-old Spaniard could thus face top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, the toughest draw he has faced since becoming the "King of Clay".
"Everyone expects so much of Rafa at this time of the year. An individual loses a few matches, someone who's won this event, what is it nine times, I believe? To put so many question marks, I almost think it's a little bit disrespectful," the women's singles second seed Sharapova told a press conference.
"He's an incredible champion, ...and his will and motivation to keep doing it and to keep proving to himself that he can do it again is pretty remarkable," said the Russian. "It's actually been a little bit sad, because if I was in his shoes I'd be a pretty accomplished and satisfied player."
"Here he is just grinding away and proving everyone wrong. I think that's pretty respectful," she added.
Nadal has failed to win a clay court title in Europe for the first time in the build-up to the tournament which gets underway on Sunday. His best result came earlier this month in the final of the Madrid Masters against Briton Andy Murray.
Murray has rated Djokovic as the favourite to win the French Open but insisted it would be "stupid" to write off Nadal.
"Nadal's form changes things. Novak for me goes into the tournament as the favourite now," said the Scott. "But on that court Rafa's record is ridiculous."
Roger Federer, the second seeded Swiss who has collected 17 Grand Slam trophies, also played down the "unlucky" draw for Nadal.
"I don't think it was going to be bad for Rafa because he's looking at defending his title whoever he has to play through," said the Swiss. "It doesn't matter who it's going to affect more that quarterfinal final guy. It's going to affect Novak more in my opinion in that regard than Rafa really."
14-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, who has struggled to regain his top form after injury and illness last year, could have to beat Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, Djokovic, Murray and Federer to win his 10th Roland Garros title in 11 years.