Rafael Nadal has declared that he is ‘not worried’ about himself, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer being named in the same half of the French Open draw ahead of this year’s tournament at Roland Garros. The Spaniard will kick off his title defence against Alexei Popyrin on Sunday as he seeks a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam triumph with yet another successful campaign in Paris.
Nadal has remarkably won the French Open on no less than 13 previous occasions, earning himself a formidable reputation as the king of clay in the process.
He is the hot favourite going into this year’s edition despite Thursday’s draw that saw the ‘Big Three’ of men’s tennis grouped together for the first time in Grand Slam history.
It seems likely that Nadal will meet Djokovic at the semi-final stage if the Serb overcomes Federer in a possible last eight clash.
Meanwhile, the lopsided nature of the draw has opened up a potential spot in the final for in-form Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas and two-time Roland Garros runner-up Dominic Thiem.
Speaking on Friday, Nadal has claimed that the possibility of facing Djokovic or Federer in the semi-finals is no cause for concern, stressing that he is entirely focused on his own game and breaking even more records over the coming fortnight.
“I see it as natural,” said the Spaniard, giving his initial reaction to the draw.
“One player is almost 40 [Federer], another is almost 35 [Nadal] and the other is 34 [Djokovic]. It seems logical that younger players climb in the rankings.
“Whenever that happens you have these consequences. I see it as completely normal. I’m not worried about it.
“I have a lot of work in front of me to play a potential match versus Djokovic. They [Djokovic and Federer] would need to play each other and I have my own path.
“My path right now is Popyrin and that’s where my mind is. My draw is hard enough to be thinking about anything else.
“I must continue my preparation, focus on my routines and keep advancing in the way we want.”
Nadal defeated his upcoming first-round opponent Popyrin at the Madrid Open earlier this month, claiming the spoils in straight sets before he was knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual champion Alexander Zverev.
The 34-year-old admitted that he is expecting a trickier test against the Australian hopeful this time around, highlighting the latter’s hard-hitting style of play and suggesting that he will need to perform at his peak in order to progress.
“He’s young, he has the power,” added Nadal. “He has big shots. As always, I need to be ready for it.
“I need to keep practising [over] the next couple of days, try to be in the best shape possible. I know every round is tough, I always respect every opponent.
“I respected everyone since the beginning of my career. And Popyrin is a dangerous one, so I need to play well and I’m looking forward to trying to make that happen.”
Nadal has endured a mixed clay-court swing thus far, tasting defeat in Monte-Carlo and Madrid but winning both ATP tournaments in Barcelona and Rome.
However, he has only lost two matches at the French Open since making his Roland Garros debut in 2005, and looks to have every chance of extending his impressive winning record this year.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are all in the same half of the French Open draw, meaning only one of the them can make the final of this year’s clay-court Grand Slam. It is the first time ever that the Big Three have all found themselves on the same side of a draw at a major.
The 13-time champion Nadal is seeded No 3 even though No 2 seed Daniel Medvedev has never won a main draw match at Roland Garros.
And Thursday’s draw has put world No 1 Djokovic and the Spanish superstar, who have contested thre finals in Paris, on a semi-final collision course.
The two last met in the final of the recent Italian Open with Nadal the 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 winner in Rome. They also contested the 2020 French Open final which Nadal won in straight sets.
Djokovic starts off against American Tennys Sandgren with Nadal’s defence beginning when he takes on Australia’s Alexei Popyrin.
The Serb is scheduled to meet No 8 seed Federer in the quarter-finals, should the Swiss – still getting back to fitness after over a year away from the court – make it that far.
Federer’s first-round match will see him take on a qualifier and if he comes out on top he could face Marin Cilic in round two.
The lopsided draw opens up the route to the June 13 final to two-time finalist Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who won the Lyon Open title on Sunday.
The outcome of the draw will please Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic. The Croat confidently told L’Equipe this week: “Nadal is favourite and there is only one person who can beat him according to me: Novak.
“And it is maybe crazy to say sit but I would like it that he is the same part of the draw. Novak would perform better, in my opinion, against him in the semi-final.
“It is psychological. If I had to make the draw, it is what I would do.”
British No 2 Cam Norrie, who has reached two finals on the clay this season, faces a qualifier in the first round and then potentially Nadal in round three.
Roger Federer admits he “knows” he will not win the French Open next month after crashing out of the Geneva Open in his first match this week. Federer lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to Pablo Andujar in only his third match on the 2021 ATP Tour.
Federer returned to the court for the first time in over 12 months at the Qatar Open in March and despite beating Dan Evans, lost in his second match to Nikoloz Basilashvili.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion’s second comeback tournament saw him surprised by Andujar despite being the top seed in his homeland.
Federer, who underwent two knee surgeries during his year out, still plans to compete at the French Open but admits he has no chance of rivalling the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Paris.
The 39-year-old, who turns 40 in August, is focused on being back at his best for the grass-court season.
And while his return to Roland Garros on May 30 will be the first time he plays on the red stuff in the French capital since 2019, Federer says he’s not even considering the possibility of winning the Grand Slam.
Federer said: “I think when you played so little, and you know where your level is at, and I think you saw that today, how can I think of winning the French Open?
“I’m just realistic, and I know I will not win the French, and whoever thought I would or could go all the way in Paris is wrong.
“Of course, crazier things might have happened, but I’m not so sure in the last 50 years at the French Open, somebody just rocked up at 40-year-old, being out for a year and a half, and just go on to just win everything straight.”
Nadal is the strong favourite for the French Open again this year as a 13-time Roland Garros champion.
His record at the tournament is a phenomenal 100-2 and he has not been beaten on the court there since losing to Djokovic in the 2015 quarter-finals.
The Serbian world No 1 is the strongest rival to Nadal but was beaten by the Spaniard in the Italian Open final in Rome last Sunday.
The pair also went head-to-head in last year’s French Open final but Nadal ran out a convincing winner in straight sets on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Federer will meanwhile play in Halle at the Noventi Open from June 14 to 20, where he is a 10-time titlist.
Wimbledon then begins a week later on June 28 where Federer stands his best chance of winning a 21st Slam, having been triumphant at SW17 a record eight times.
He added after losing to Andujar: “When I walk out of a match like today, I feel like, ‘My God, I could play so much better.’
“It feels strange, and it’s disappointing, but at the same time, this is the process I need to go through, and that’s why I can’t get too down on myself, and I need to go back to the drawing board.”
Earlier in the week before the Geneva Open, Federer had said: “Once I get healthy and matches under my belt, that will increase my confidence. I think then I’ll be a part of the top tier.
“If you want to be in the top tier you need to play 50, 80 or 100 matches per season and that gets tougher as you get older.
“You would think that the game has improved again. For me, that’s going to be an extra challenge.
“Extra hard to find that level but one that I guess that I knew from the get go [that] it was never going to be simple – regardless of if I was going to be out for three months or now almost a year-and-a-half.
“I was happy that the knee didn’t feel any different from hard to clay, and I expect the same in the switch from clay to grass.
“So far, the clay has been good for me and I hope it will be good for me for the grass. When you come back from an injury you are anyway in a different place than everyone else.
“The players are there, I’m here at the moment. That’s why I am excited about the comeback.
“That’s what my focus needs to be on and not about trying to be at the same level as Rafael [Nadal] and Novak [Djokovic] right now. That’s not why I am playing Geneva.”
Roger Federer thanks frontline worker for efforts in pandemic
On paper, everything looked to be set up perfectly for Roger Federer.
With the majority of the sport’s big hitters having already played in the Italian Open in Rome last week, a relatively modest field had gathered in Federer’s native Switzerland for the Geneva Open.
But, despite a relative lack of star power on the entry list, the presence of Federer, who was predictably seeded at No. 1, meant the tournament would form a crucial part in the narrative heading into the French Open, which is due to get underway on May 30.
Seeded first, Federer had a relatively kind draw, and had even been handed a bye to the last 16.
But, in his first outing since his Qatar Open quarter-final exit in March, Federer looked half-a-yard off the pace as he battled gamely against Spanish clay court specialist Pablo Andujar.
The world number 75 wasn’t expected to cause huge issues for Federer, but his sound clay court fundamentals and a solid first-serve percentage meant that he was competitive throughout.
Key decision: Roger Federer may be best served by skipping the French Open to focus on Wimbledon (Image: GETTY)
With Federer starting sluggishly in his first competitive outing in months, it came as little surprise when the more energetic Andujar claimed the first set, 6-4.
Federer upped his game in the second set and levelled the match by taking the set 6-4 as he showed flashes of the brilliance we’ve come to expect from him over the years. But the lack of match sharpness was there for all to see in the third set when, after initially breaking Andujar, he couldn’t close out the match.
Instead, the match slipped away from him alarmingly quickly. He lost his serve immediately, then was broken again as he lost four games in a row to bow out of the tournament 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
As a warm-up for the high-octane action of the French Open, it was little short of disastrous for Federer, whose hopes of easing into the tournament in Geneva and hitting his stride by the final were ended at the very first hurdle.
Now there must surely be question marks over Federer’s next move.
The Swiss superstar was all set to compete at the French Open but, after bombing out against an unheralded opponent in Geneva, and with just 12 days to go until the start of the tournament, his prospects for success don’t look good.
The famous Roland Garros courts are no place for a player trying to play their way back to fitness.
The baseline rallies are tennis’ equivalent of a heavyweight boxing match, as the players attempt to pass one another with haymaker-like shots. It’s tough, it’s drawn out and it’s just about as gruelling a test as you’ll find anywhere on the tennis calendar.
With Federer looking to get back to full fitness after back-to-back surgeries on his right knee, exposing himself to the punishing clay courts of Roland Garros may not be the smartest move for his tennis year.
And his post-match comments seemed to suggest he might be of a similar opinion.
“My goal is the grass-court season, not Roland Garros,” he said.
“(The) Next weeks will be important to get used to the Tour again.
“Matches are different than training sessions.”
Federer: “My goal is the grass court season, not Roland Garros. Next weeks will be important to get used to the Tour again. Matches are different than training sessions”
That suggests there is a strong chance we may not see Federer at Roland Garros, and that would leave the door wide open for the most epic clay-court rivalry of the modern era, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both eyeing the French Open title.
Djokovic has been in superb form this year, and is head and shoulders above the field as the current ATP world number one.
But Nadal is the king of clay, and is targeting his 14th French Open title.
If the Spaniard is successful, he’ll pass Federer and stand alone with more Grand Slam singles tournament wins than any other men’s player in history.
Currently, Nadal and Federer are tied on 20 wins apiece, while Djokovic is on 18, and can pull to within one win of his two big rivals.
Even if fully fit, Federer would have had his work cut out to eclipse Djokovic and Nadal on the clay at Roland Garros.
But it’s on the faster courts that the Swiss truly shines, and a decision to sit out the clay-court season may prove to be the best bet for Federer’s season overall.
An eight-time Wimbledon men’s singles champion, Federer’s graceful movement and uncanny anticipation have put him a cut above the rest at SW19 over the years, and playing on the faster grass surface will help reduce the potential issues of a still-recovering right knee. Doing so after taking the early portion of the summer to get himself back to 100 per cent certainly seems to make sense under the current circumstances.
If he does decide to withdraw from the clay court season – including skipping Roland Garros – it may leave tennis fans disappointed in the short term, but it could set things up perfectly for a titanic “Big Three” showdown in London later this summer.
Novak Djokovic hinted he may not be at 100 per cent heading into the Italian Open final against Rafael Nadal after a mammoth Saturday in which he was forced to play two matches. In less than 24 hours after his semi-final clash with Lorenzo Sonego finished, the world No 1 will try to accomplish the toughest task in tennis – beating Nadal on clay.
Djokovic’s quarter-final showdown with Stefanos Tsitsipas was postponed mid-match on Friday meaning they had to continue the following morning.
That showdown went the distance with the Serbian coming from a set down to reach the next round.
Italian Sonego, with the home crowd behind him, provided a much tougher task than many imagined.
The 26-year-old forced a third set but the tiring Djokovic used his experience to progress to the final, where he will meet his old enemy Nadal.
“First of all I need to recover, I don’t have much time and hopefully I’ll have fresh legs,” Djokovic said.
“That’s what I definitely will need to have a chance against Rafa.
“He’s also had some tough matches but myself with rain delays and everything which has happened… I’ll give it my all.”
Djokovic was slightly frustrated that he did not spend less time out court in the evening as he missed opportunities in the second set.
He added: “I missed my chances and I have only myself to blame for not closing the match in straight sets.
“I could have and should have done it.
“He is showing why he reached his first semi-finals. He is a quality player and very dynamic.
“To play against him, with a crowd behind him, it was an electric atmosphere behind him.”
Earlier in the day Nadal beat big-serving American Reilly Opelka.
“I think I did the thing that I had to do,” the 20-time Grand Slam winner said in his post-match interview. “Of course it is not an easy or beautiful match to play against Reilly.
“You don’t have rhythm and you only have a few options on your return.
“He can play very aggressive from the baseline. He has good shots and that’s what happened at the beginning of the match and it was super important for me to save those moments.”
Novak Djokovic had the conditions to thank as his quarter-final clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas was halted with the world number one in big trouble in Rome.
In changeable conditions on centre court in the Italian capital, Djokovic struggled to find his form as he lost the first set to Tsitsipas 6-4.
The Greek star was playing the big points much better than the Serb, who made some uncharacteristic errors in a difficult first set.
But any hopes of a second set fightback were replaced with more concern as Djokovic was broken in the third game of the second set to put him in big trouble as the rain came down in Italy.
Immediately after losing his serve and going 2-1 down in the second set, play was suspended due to the worsening conditions on court, with Djokovic’s stony expression hiding what was likely relief at some respite and the chance to reset before play resumes.
Rafael Nadal‘s rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have been reminded by Greg Rusedski that it is “near impossible” to beat the Spaniard at the French Open following his comeback win over Denis Shapovalov to reach the Italian Open quarter-finals.
The ‘King of Clay’ saved two match points having at one point been 4-0 up inside the first 16 minutes of the match and then 6-3, 3-0 up.
Nadal produced a brilliant fightback to win 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 and converted his second match point in his third-set tiebreak at Foro Italico.
It took three-and-a-half hours but Nadal is now into his 97th career Masters 1000 quarter-final as he bids to win a 10th Italian Open.
Nadal has suffered disappointment in Monte Carlo and Madrid despite winning the Barcelona Open and this is his final tournament prior to the French Open later this month.
The 34-year-old returns to Paris looking for his 14th triumph at the event and a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam overall, which would see him surpass Federer.
And world No 1 Djokovic and Federer have been warned that should they believe themselves capable of downing Nadal, they must remember their rival is close to unbeatable at the French Open.
Last year’s final saw Nadal thrash Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 on Court Philippe Chatrier to tie level with Federer on 20 Slams apiece.
“Roland Garros is another place. His record there is incredible. 125 wins, two losses,” Amazon Prime’s Rusedski, the former British No 1, declared after Nadal bounced back to beat Shapovalov.
“On top of that you’ve got to think it’s three out of five sets. To beat Rafa in two of three is easier but still difficult on clay.
“At the French Open, three out of five, is near impossible. The irony of the situation, Rafa hasn’t hit his best tennis.
“We thought against Sinner that he started to feel like it but you’ve got to look at the whole run-up.
“Lost to [Andrey] Rublev in Monte Carlo, all of a sudden wins Barcelona, loses to [Alexander] Zverev in Madrid, he can still go on to win this tournament.
And Daniela Hantuchova weighed in to say: “I think me and Greg both believe that when Rafa gets to Paris it’s a completely different Rafa.
“You come somewhere you’ve won a Slam 13 times and you can’t help yourself but be confident.
“It doesn’t matter what happened in Rome or Monte Carlo. We must not forget he won Barcelona which is not a small tournament.
“We’ll keep telling you: it [his pre-French Open form] doesn’t matter.”
Elsewhere at the Italian Open, top seed Djokovic takes on world No 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in Friday’s semi-finals while American Reilly Opelka is tasked with taking on Federico Delbonis.
This year’s French Open meanwhile gets underway on May 30 and will be concluded in the French capital on June 13, with Wimbledon then beginning on June 28.
Novak Djokovic could “struggle” when he steps onto court to take on Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the Italian Open last-16 today because he will be in an unusual situation, according to Mark Petchey. The world No 1 is usually one of the headliners at every event he plays, which means he is given an evening slot on the schedule.
However, the Italian Open has placed his showdown with Davidovich Fokina first up on centre court in Rome.
That means his match will get underway at 10am local time (9am BST) which brings many problems for the 20-time Grand Slam winner.
Not only will his routine be broken up, but he will also have to deal with the glaring sun.
And Petchey reckons Djokovic may be affected as he tried to adjust to the new conditions.
“I don’t think he is going to be delighted because the sun, when they are teeing it up at 10am, is going to be particularly awkward,” he told Amazon Prime.
“He is not going to love the fact he is on early.
“He has been practising at that time this week but the sun is particularly awkward for an hour and a bit.
“You pretty much have to kick it in and he is somebody that has struggled with that in the past.
“These are the little nuances that you have in these tournaments. Suddenly the schedule of play comes out and that is not ideal for him.”
Fellow pundit Daniela Hantuchova also thinks Djokovic will find it strange getting out of bed so early.
She said: “It will be interesting to see how Novak handles that early rise because I know he likes his sleep.
“When you are on at 10am it means you have to get up at 6.30am so it is going to be a rough morning.”
Djokovic is not the only key player who may struggle with the schedule as Rafael Nadal has also tabled complaints.
He wrapped up his demanding win over Jannik Sinner at 9.40pm local time last night and he will be back on court at 1pm this afternoon against Denis Shapovalov.
“I am not happy that they put me on the third turn without a not before because It’s twenty to ten and I can play tomorrow at one,” Nadal said.
“I’ll have to be ready at least by 11:30. It’s exaggerated, really. It’s not right, it’s badly done, I say it as I think it is.”