The balls, the roof and the night: all against Nadal at Roland Garros

The balls, the roof and the night: all against Nadal at Roland Garros

The change of balls, the cold and the few matches on the ground with which the players arrive revolutionize the tournament. Carlos Moyà defends the options of his ward to revalidate the title

The balls, the roof and the night: all against Nadal at Roland Garros

Under normal conditions, we would be talking exclusively about tennis, about the possibility that Rafael Nadal can equal Roger Federer's 20 Grand Slam titles if he manages to win for the thirteenth time at Roland Garros, which starts this Sunday. That hypothesis is still viable, and in fact, it is difficult to argue that the best tennis player in history on this surface is no longer the main favorite to lift the cup on October 11. This is still Roland Gar

rivers, the Philippe Chatrier and clay. And he is still Rafael Nadal, “says Carlos Moyà in a telephone conversation with this newspaper from Paris. Under normal conditions it would not be necessary to ratify the evidence, but, how could it be otherwise, the Covid-19 has also altered the circuit and, to this change in dates, weather and preparation, another that is not trivial: after nine years of playing the tournament with the Babolat ball, the French Tennis Federation announced on November 4 an agreement with the American brand Wilson for the next five editions. “It is a ball more similar to that of the US Open, more designed for the fast track, which does not favor those who play topspin, but those who hit flat,” explains Xavi Segura , stringer for the Spanish Davis Cup team between 2000 and 2015. «Babolat made a ball designed for Nadal, similar to the Dunlop, which is what you play with on land. Money rules and they are criteria for sponsorship, but technically the change has no justification. «It will be a different tournament for him, with an added problem. It's like comparing Wimbledon 15 years ago with now. We shouldn't be surprised to see strange people in the final rounds. Servers have an advantage, ”Segura continues. “It is not the ideal ball for him”, admits Moyà, without wanting to abound in the very critical speech offered by Nadal at the press conference on Saturday. «Rafa is a master at adapting to all kinds of circumstances. Nothing is the same this year, but we cannot change it. Where more emphasis is placed by the coach of the number two in the world is on the change in temperature, closer to that of November, when the Paris-Bercy Masters 1000 is played, than to that of the last week of May and the first day of June , traditional tournament dates. It is raining and cold in the French capital: nine degrees this Saturday. Nadal has been forced to train plenty of days indoors since he arrived and the rough weather will continue next week, according to forecasts. Another innovation is the retractable roof of the center court, the Philippe Chatrier, whose use is presumed above the exceptional, considering also the earliest dusk. “I don't think Rafa plays many night games,” says John McEnroe , who ventures into a less predictable tournament. “The door is open, particularly since the madness of this pandemic began.”

Little competitive baggage

“The more you get out of the routine, the more things can happen,” says Moyà when assessing Nadal's defeat against Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals in Rome. «He played two very good games, but there was a lack of continuity and we knew that this could happen. With more competition you manage those moments better ». The left-hander has trained for weeks in Mallorca with the new Roland Garros ball, but he arrives with less competitive shooting than ever, an evil that affects all players to a greater or lesser extent. In 2019, he won his eighth title in Rome and played the semifinals in Madrid, the Conde de Godó and Montecarlo. There were 13 previous matches on clay before landing at the Bois de Boulogne, 10 more than this season. Djokovic was champion in Madrid, finished in Rome and the Monte Carlo quarterfinals.

Also 13 games, compared to the five he has played as champion in Rome. It is true that the Serbian comes with more global kilometers, as he won in Cincinnati (five games) and crashed in the second round of the United States Open, where he was disqualified after involuntarily hitting a judge in his eighth match against Pablo Carreño . In New York there were three games and 11 games of the first set against the Spanish.

Dominic Thiem , who won his first Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows after falling off his takeoff in Cincinnati, will arrive in Paris without ever having touched the ground. In 2019 he won the Count of Godó, played the semifinals in Madrid and the eighth in Monte Carlo, saying goodbye on his debut in Rome. Twelve matches. At the beginning of last year he passed through Rio de

Janeiro, one game, and Buenos Aires, three as a semifinalist. The Austrian is the third man. Finalist in the last two editions, with defeats against Nadal, he has been able to beat him in five of his 14 clashes, four of them on brick dust and the most significant in the quarters of the last Australian Open, still under the old normality . «He has been adding experiences and improves every year. In addition, he can no longer be labeled only as a specialist on gravel, because his two most important titles have been won away from her, ”says Moyà, also recalling his 2019 victory in Indian Wells.

Djokovic's reaction

If Thiem's strength is undoubted, Djokovic, who won his fifth title in Rome to place himself as the man with the most Masters 1000s, 36, has reacted after the traumatic blow at the US Open. “He is out of series. He has been able to overcome difficult situations in Rome and, without being brilliant, he was effective in the moments that he most needed him ”, says Moyà. The Serbian has 17 majors, two less than Nadal and three behind Federer, convalescing from a knee operation and whom we will not see on the slopes until 2021.

“The new balls are heavier, but it is normal, because we are in October,” said the number 1 in the world, relativizing the dimension of the change. Defeated by Thiem in the 2019 semifinals, after a tough installment match due to the rain, and in the quarterfinals of 2017, the 2016 tournament champion and three-time finalist (2012, 2014 and 2015) would not meet the Austrian until one hypothetical ending. From a bird's eye view, the draw has been less benevolent with Nadal, who could run into Alexander Zverev , a recent US Open finalist, in the quarterfinals, and Thiem in the semifinals. «He has won 12 times! I suspect this streak is nearing its end. He's on the verge of being like Superman. He seems to maintain an insatiable desire and competitiveness and as long as he maintains that, it is going to be very difficult to beat, ”McEnroe reflects.

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