Former No 1 claims ‘nobody wants to play’ Rafael Nadal at French Open despite injury concerns

Rafael Nadal speaks
Rafael Nadal attends a press conference.

Former world No 1 Mats Wilander has claimed that “nobody wants to play” Rafael Nadal in the opening round of the French Open – despite the Spaniard’s physical struggles.

This year looks likely to be the last time that Nadal plays at Roland Garros, potentially drawing a legendary tennis love story to a close.

The Spaniard has an astonishing 112-3 record in Paris and has amassed a staggering 14 titles at the tournament, last winning in 2022.

But he was forced to withdraw from action 12 months ago, and has struggled with injuries and fitness during a hesitant clay season so far.

Nadal was last in action at the Italian Open, where he won just four games in a second round loss to Hubert Hurkacz.

Despite his shaky form and fitness, Wilander – himself a three-time French Open winner – still believes Nadal will prove formidable opposition early on.

“When he’s there practising, of course he wants to play,” said Wilander, speaking to Eurosport.

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“But the way that he’s been speaking [in] the last few weeks, every time, after a loss or a win is that the French Open is everything to him, and he’s going to go on the court even if he’s not 100% – which I don’t think he is. I don’t think anyone at his age is.

“When he starts talking about it, you realise how important this tournament is for Rafa. [It] always has been, always will be. He was playing well enough in some of [his previous] matches, especially in Madrid.

“In Rome, he lost a close one to Hubert Hurkacz, but the score didn’t show it. He knows that he’s very close. There were a lot of close games. He just didn’t win the big points.

“So I think he’s one player that nobody wants to play in the first round. I don’t care what your name is.”

With Nadal far from his best, world No 1 Novak Djokovic not in strong form, and the likes of Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner also entering under an injury cloud, this is set to be the most open men’s draw in two decades.

And Wilander believes that there are a few key contenders who could take advantage of the situation.

He said: “This year’s Roland-Garros for the men is definitely the most open that we’ve seen in a very, very long time.

“I would say that this is a great situation for players like Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and even Daniil Medvedev because no one has been dominating this clay season.

“I think they feel that if Novak [Djokovic] is not playing at his best, which he [isn’t], Carlos Alcaraz hasn’t played at all, and Nadal hasn’t played that much, the best players have not shown that they are still the best players in the world.

“I think that itself gives a lot of confidence to players like Zverev and Tsitsipas. This is the year that a few players have to take this chance because it might never return where the best players are not playing great.”