PARIS • With its quicksilver conditions, quaint old-tech environment and a leviathan casting his shadow across centre court, the French Open is now the hardest Grand Slam title to win, says former champion and tennis great Mats Wilander.
"Okay, okay... first off, you have Rafa Nadal. That, on its own, is why it is the hardest Grand Slam to win these days," the affable Swede said.
Wilander knows a thing or two about the slams. He and Nadal are the only men in tennis history to have won at least two Grand Slam singles crowns on each of the three main tennis surfaces: grass, clay and hard court.
Wilander took Roland Garros by storm in 1982 when, as a 17-year-old, he beat clay-court giant Guillermo Vilas for the title.
Two more French slams followed, plus a US Open title on New York's hard courts and a trio of Australian Open crowns: one on Melbourne Park's hard courts and two when the tournament was played on the grass of Kooyong.
Now a youthful 52, Wilander chuckles when he thinks of the difficulties facing players in Paris, where the second Grand Slam of the year starts on Sunday.
"The conditions change so much at the French Open, you have to be prepared for something you really don't know what it is," he said.
"You can practise in the morning and it's fine, and then you come to play in the afternoon and it is drizzly and the conditions are totally different."
Many players would cite Wimbledon as the toughest to win for that reason alone. But rain delays on the main showcourt came to an end with the completion of a retractable roof in 2008, and Court One is also to be covered by 2019, guaranteeing tennis whatever the weather.
Melbourne Park features retractable roofs over three of its courts for the Australian Open, while the US Open debuted its roof over Arthur Ashe stadium court last year, leaving Paris the only Grand Slam tournament entirely open to the elements.
"It is hard. If it gets like that you get no rhythm," Wilander said. "At Wimbledon if it is slightly wet you don't even play the match. At the French Open you need to just get on with it and somehow adjust."
The conditions hardly suit the world's very best, Wilander says, although nine-time champion Nadal is clearly an exception to that.
"The really top guys play within themselves 99 per cent of the time. The guys a little lower down the rankings, they might have to go all out for everything if they (are to) stand a chance of winning," Wilander said. "In many ways, they are used to going all out, and so may be a bit better prepared for those wet, slow conditions where you do need to go all out.
"It is tough. You can't just stand back and take a big cut at the ball. The bounces... a different bounce can be difficult, it can be variable. The next minute you can hit the frame of your racket, and your confidence takes a dip."