Former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero won the Roland Garros title 16 years ago. Two years later, another Spaniard, 18-year-old Rafael Nadal, triumphed on the Parisian terre battue. Little did Ferrero know that Nadal would emerge victorious at the clay-court Grand Slam 11 times. And the World No. 2 could add to that tally in the coming fortnight.
“Rafa, if he’s 100 per cent physically, I think he’s going to win it again,” Ferrero told ATPTour.com.
But Ferrero, who consistently keeps up with the ATP Tour throughout the year, especially at ATP Masters 1000 tournaments and Grand Slams, knows that it won’t be easy for his countryman. Nadal needed until the Internazionali BNL d’Italia to win his first title of the season, the Spaniard’s longest title drought to start a year since 2004, when he captured his maiden tour-level trophy. Even with Nadal now near his best, there are plenty of challengers ready to make their own mark in Paris.
“Thiem I also think is one of the favourites. He played the final last year. I think he [has] got the experience he needs to create an opportunity to win a Grand Slam on clay after beating Rafa more than one time,” said Ferrero of Dominic Thiem, who after beating Nadal in Barcelona has defeated the legendary lefty on clay in three consecutive seasons. “Obviously Novak is going to be there. Other guys, it’s tough to say. Roger, on clay, best-of-five sets, I’m not going to put him as one of the favourites this time.”
Federer is competing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015. Before playing in Madrid and Rome, the 37-year-old had not entered a clay-court event since 2016. He made the quarter-finals at each of those two Masters 1000 tournaments.
On the other hand, Djokovic is the World No. 1, and he gained momentum heading into Paris by lifting the trophy at the Mutua Madrid Open. And in Rome, the Serbian battled through two grueling three-setters, in the quarter-finals against Juan Martin del Potro and the semi-finals against Diego Schwartzman, to reach the final against Nadal.
Although Djokovic battled hard, pushing the championship match to a third set, Nadal ultimately lifted his ninth trophy at the Foro Italico.
“It was a bit weird, the match, because the first set and the third set were not the battles that you expect from these kind of matches in finals or if you see some of the matches that Novak and Rafa have played in the past,” Ferrero said. “It was very weird to see 6-0 and then the third 6-1. Rafa, I think he was playing very aggressive, maybe a bit more than the other tournaments. Of course Rafa was a little bit hurt to lose in the tournaments that maybe he was expected to win like Barcelona, Monte-Carlo or Madrid.
“He was wanting to win the tournament very badly and you could see from the beginning in Rome and definitely in the final, he went for it from the first point. Maybe the concentration of Novak, it was not the same of Rafa’s [throughout the week].”
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Now, plenty of history could be made at Roland Garros. Nadal could claim a record 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires, Djokovic could win his fourth consecutive major, doing so for the second time in his career, and Federer can lift his 21st Grand Slam trophy.
“When I was playing, it was strange to think someone is going to achieve these kind of numbers. But now you see Roger or Novak or Rafa and seeing them, it’s like normal numbers for them because they’re fighting every Grand Slam to win,” Ferrero said. “After being No. 1 and achieving a very good career, it’s almost impossible to think someone could achieve these kind of numbers.”
Ferrero also believes that the likes of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer build their level so as to peak at Grand Slams and Masters 1000 events.
“I think now they play more for the numbers, for the records,” Ferrero said. “It’s the history of numbers and who’s going to win more Grand Slams and who’s going to win more Masters 1000s. They have to have some big motivation in there and those numbers could be one of those.”