World No. 2 Rafael Nadal recently crashed out of the Italian Open in a shocking straight sets defeat to Argentina's Diego Schwartzman. The nine-time winner in Rome was playing his first competitive event since the COVID-19 pandemic, and was visibly out of practice.
Nadal, however, refused to make any feeble excuses after his loss. Instead, he admitted that he has work to do before he travels to Paris and launches his bid for a record-extending 13th title at Roland Garros.
Recently, two-time French Open winner Jim Courier spoke to Tennis Channel on a conference call and gave his top contenders for the tournament. While he believes Nadal remains the favorite, with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and US Open winner Dominic Thiem right behind, the American added that the 12-time champion is not as well-prepared as he normally is.
"On paper, he’s surely the favorite. I would have Novak a very close second behind him probably tied with Dominic Thiem, given Thiem’s run in New York and his awesome clay court play in the past four, five years," Courier said.
Novak Djokovic last won the French Open in 2016, whereas Dominic Thiem finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the tournament.
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Rafael Nadal hasn't had a normal run-up of matches: Jim Courier
Rafael Nadal was clearly off his game in his Italian Open quarterfinal match against Schwartzman, as he missed several first serves and made a slew of unforced errors. But the 34-year-old is well aware of the flaws in his game, and is optimistic of fixing them ahead of Roland Garros.
Courier noted that Nadal would not be feeling as comfortable as he normally would going into the tournament, due to a lack of prior matches.
"I think because he hasn’t had a normal run-up of matches, because he didn’t get to play that many matches in Rome, he’s not coming in with the normal comfort level, I would imagine, that he’s used to having, where he typically comes in with at least one clay court title under his belt,” Courier said.
While Rafael Nadal has won 12 French Open titles in his illustrious career, the Spaniard has never won one without capturing at least one claycourt title in the lead-up to the Slam.
Nadal remains the favorite for most tennis pundits because of his stellar win-loss record at the French Open, but this may be a great opportunity for Djokovic and Thiem to steal a march over him.
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