Rafael Nadal backed to ‘find another gear’ on clay, but draw for Roland Garros ‘wide open’

Shahida Jacobs
Rafael Nadal 2022 Roland Garros champion
Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the French Open

Rafael Nadal will no doubt up his game before he starts his campaign for a record-extending Roland Garros title and, even though Laura Robson finds it hard to “root against Rafa on clay”, the British No 1 feels there are several players who can challenge him this year.

22-time Grand Slam winner Nadal’s return to action has been pushed back again as he has pulled out of next week’s Monte Carlo Masters as he is still not 100% following the hip injury he picked during his second-round defeat at the Australian Open in mid-January.

Despite his injury woes, the Spaniard will always be one of the favourites for the French Open as he already has a record 14 titles to his name and he is not known as the King of Clay for nothing.

It is also not the first time that Nadal has made a delayed start to the clay-court season as last year he five matches on the surface in the lead-up to Roland Garros and he still went on to win the title in Paris.

Robson feels former world No 1 will always be there or thereabouts when it comes to the favourites at Roland Garros.

“It is crazy to even say that he is playing for potential 15th Roland-Garros title. It’s mental. The numbers that he’s had at Paris, it’s like hard to wrap your head around, but I just think he needs matches,” she told Eurosport’s Arnold Montgault.

“He’s entered pretty much every week leading up to Roland-Garros, and it’s just whether he’s healthy. I think he’s had a couple of tournaments now where he’s pushed maybe a little too hard and his body’s broken down because of that. So it’s just finding that balance of when to come back at the right time, where you feel like you’re totally ready to play seven matches over the course of two weeks in Paris.

“He’s so good on clay and is so confident on that surface that you feel if he misses the first week, it’s not the end of the world. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same preparation that he did last year coming into the clay season, but at the same time, he’s had a couple of weeks home now of what looks like really intense, solid practice that I’ve seen from the videos.”

World No 1 Novak Djokovic is one player who could upset Nadal in Paris, but Robson feels there are one or two others who could be also pull off an upset.

She added: “On the clay, you feel like he’s just going to be able to find another gear like he always has done, but there are some more players that mentally feel like they can challenge him.

“I don’t think anyone in previous years felt like they could beat Rafa on clay.

“And now there’s so much confidence in (Carlos) Alcaraz, (Jannik) Sinner and (Daniil) Medvedev and even a couple of the lower-ranked guys who could potentially pull off an upset. The draw is wide open, but for me, it’s hard to root against Rafa on clay.”

READ MORE: ‘A Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic Roland Garros final could ultimately decide the GOAT’