Tennis: Everyone's favourite Nadal cares only about playing well

Rafael Nadal and his coach and uncle Toni training at Roland Garros yesterday. The nine-time French Open champion is in smashing form this year but he is still wary about his first-round opponent - the unpredictable Frenchman Benoit Paire.
Rafael Nadal and his coach and uncle Toni training at Roland Garros yesterday. The nine-time French Open champion is in smashing form this year but he is still wary about his first-round opponent - the unpredictable Frenchman Benoit Paire.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • Rafael Nadal insisted on Friday that he did not care if he is regarded as the favourite for a 10th French Open men's title, even if his rivals begged to differ.

"Hundred per cent he is the big favourite," said Austrian Dominic Thiem, one of those waiting in the wings should the great Spaniard slip up.

"Of course I think he's back at his best this year, and then also he won here nine times. So he knows how it works to win here."

Thiem, the 23-year-old world No. 9, has already faced Nadal three times on clay in the past few months - losing in the finals in Barcelona and Madrid before gaining revenge in the quarter-finals in Rome.

It is that kind of surprising setback - Nadal's only loss on clay this year - that has the 30-year-old Spaniard eager to calm the mood.

However, with defending champion Novak Djokovic and world No. 1 Andy Murray both struggling for consistency and Australian Open champion Roger Federer sitting it out to focus on Wimbledon, it appears to be a thankless task.

"You have to write what you have to do, but I don't care," said Nadal.

"At the end of the day for me the only important thing is play well. If I am playing well, doesn't matter if you believe or you don't believe that I am one of the candidates or not."

Nadal, who was forced to withdraw from last year's tournament with a wrist injury after two rounds, has already reached the magical 10-title number this year at the clay-court events in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

For good measure, he also won in Madrid for a fifth time, ending a seven-match losing streak, stretching back over two years against Djokovic in the process.

Nadal boasts a sensational career record at Roland Garros - 72 wins and just two defeats.

"Rafa playing on his favourite surface won three tournaments in a row this year, and playing confidently and much better than he was playing actually last year," said Djokovic. "I definitely see him as the No. 1 favourite for this title."

Potential challenges for the Spaniard could come from a new generation of big hitters such as Thiem and Germany's Alexander Zverev, but he looks in the mood to regain his Parisian throne.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Everyone's favourite Nadal cares only about playing well'. Print Edition | Subscribe