LONDON – Reigning French Open champion Rafael Nadal says the change in weather conditions at Roland Garros will make his latest title defence the toughest yet.
The Spanish world number two is aiming for a record-extending 13th crown in Paris, but the tournament, which begins Sunday, was moved from its traditional summer slot because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nadal said in the run-up the colder weather will effect the speed of his game and slow him down on the red clay courts but the 19-times major winner insists he is ready for another challenge.
“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros for so many different facts,” he said.
“(The) ball is super slow, heavy. It’s very cold. Slow conditions. Of course, the preparation has been less than usual. But you know what, I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible, to give me a chance.”
Women’s top seed Simona Halep agreed with Nadal and admitted that she too will find it hard to adapt.
“I struggle with the cold,” the 2018 winner said.
“To play Roland Garros in September, end of September, it’s a little bit weird. But it’s nice that we have the chance to play at this tournament.”
Austria’s Dominic Thiem has played the last two finals on Court Phillipe Chatrier against Nadal, but they will not face each other this year because they were placed in the same half of the draw.
The 27-year-old Thiem has arrived in the French capital full of confidence after ticking off a big career goal by winning his maiden grand slam title at last month’s US Open.
“I’ve achieved such a big goal. I mean, at one point whatever comes now is somehow a bonus,” Thiem said.
“I tried to not think too much about US Open, but to see this as a new tournament, as a new challenge, to be as good as possible from the first point on. Especially here in Roland Garros I had four crazy years with two semifinals, two finals.”
As for the playing conditions, Thiem thinks they are more suited to world number one Novak Djokovic, who is bidding for an 18th major, but like many, Thiem still puts Nadal as the frontrunner.
“He’s the big favourite just because of the past,” Thiem commented on Nadal.
“He won the tournament 12 times, which is just incredible. Maybe it’s little bit better conditions for Novak, but Rafa is the huge favourite than Novak because of all his titles.”
Meanwhile, all the players know they will not only be playing in different weather conditions, but they will also be watched by a smaller level of crowd.
The French Tennis Federation said Friday they will follow the government’s advice to reduce capacity for spectators to 1,000 per day due to a significant number of Covid-19 cases in France.
“Everybody wants to come back to the normal situation,” said Nadal when asked about the reduced audience.
“But before that, we need to fix the most important thing, and that is the worldwide health that today still under big problems. At least only thing we can say is thanks that we can play tennis again.”