ATP star makes ‘dangerous’ Rafael Nadal claim as he states facing Spaniard at Roland Garros is ‘toughest job’

Rafael Nadal on Court Philippe Chatrier
Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros in 2022

German ATP star Yannick Hanfmann believes that playing Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is the “toughest job in tennis” as he reflected on his experience facing the Spaniard on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Hanfmann faced Nadal at the French Open back in 2019, with the German having come through qualifying to achieve a place in the main draw.

And unsurprisingly Hanfmann’s run came to an abrupt end, Nadal starting his run to what would be a then record-extending 12th title at the tournament with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 victory.

Now ranked 53rd on the ATP Rankings, Hanfmann admitted that it was dispiriting heading onto court to play Nadal, who had only two defeats on Philippe Chatrier at that time.

“I think to play Rafa on that court is probably the toughest job in tennis,” said the German, speaking to Clay Magazine.

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“I felt weird when I saw I got Rafa in the first round. Because I played really well in qualifying and then the draw put [up] such a difficult challenge.

“It was, in one way an amazing match, an amazing experience. But on the other way I felt a little bit sad, because I knew most likely this was going to be the end.

“I didn’t feel great. Like, he made me just suffer. You know, he just plays such a different kind of ball to anyone else on tour. And especially on that court, on these conditions, it’s elevated by 10. And so it was tough to adjust to his game, so he gave me a good lesson.””

In recent months there has been plenty of discussion about how Nadal, approaching his 38th birthday this spring, could fare at the tournament this year.

The former world No 1 has won a staggering 14 of his 22 Grand Slam titles in Paris and is unquestionably the greatest clay-court player of all time, but concerns about his fitness are ongoing.

Nadal missed the majority of last season through injury and has played just three official tour matches this season, at the Brisbane International back in January.

He has since withdrawn from the Australian Open and Indian Wells among other events, with some concerned about whether he will be fit for the second Grand Slam of the year.

But Hanfmann, who reached the second round at Roland Garros for the first time last season, believes it would be unwise to discount Nadal just yet.

He added: “What I saw from him in Australia, he looked quite sharp on the practice court. He also looked good in the match. And then, of course, he had a setback with the injury.

“I don’t know what’s happening with him, how bad his body actually is. But, you know, what we’ve seen from him over the years is that you can never write him off.

“If he feels dangerous again, then I believe it. You have to consider Rafa a favourite, even though he might not be in his prime anymore. He’s still playing pretty good tennis.”