Former world No 5 claims players ‘prayed’ not to draw Rafael Nadal at French Open

Rafael Nadal could be back at the French Open this year
Rafael Nadal won his 14th French Open title in 2022

Players “prayed” to avoid Rafael Nadal in the French Open draw at the peak of the Spaniard’s career, according to former world No 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Nadal has won 14 titles at Roland Garros – a clear record for individual victories at any of the four majors – while he has only ever tasted defeat three times at the tournament.

The former world No 1 and 22-time Grand Slam winner looks set to play at Roland Garros one final time in 2024, in what seems to be the Spaniard’s farewell season.

Tsonga, who played his final career match at the tournament in 2022, played Nadal 14 times during his career, with the former Australian Open runner-up winning four of those matches.

He played Nadal at three of the four majors and the Paris Masters – but never in the French Open main draw.

But, speaking on Canal + this week, the Frenchman revealed he wanted Nadal to have the best send-off possible – and shared a humorous story about how he and other players used to wait for the French Open draw with bated breath.

He said: “Everyone wants to see him. I want to see him. For a long time, I didn’t want to see him. We want him to go out in the best possible way, on the court fighting like he always did.

“What he did at Roland‐Garros, 14 victories…I don’t even want to talk about it. Honestly, for me, the biggest challenge in tennis was to face Nadal on clay.

“It’s quite funny, I have a little anecdote about that. Before the draw, we all prayed not to draw him.

“We said to ourselves: ‘Can you imagine, you enter the centre court and finally, after two sets, you still haven’t won a game.’”

There are no guarantees that the Spaniard will play at the French Open one final time this year, as he continues to speak cautiously about his long-term plans.

How he fares performance-wise and physically at the Italian Open this week may prove a huge factor in his decision, with his draw confirmed.

Nadal has been handed a potentially favourable opening round match against a qualifier but – assuming he wins – would then face seventh seed and world No 9 Hubert Hurkacz.

A 10-time champion in Rome, Nadal enters the tournament after an encouraging run in Madrid, where he progressed to the fourth round.

And he may take encouragement from his round two win over Alex de Minaur, who is just two spots below Hurkacz in the rankings.

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