Rome: Rafael Nadal remains “number one favourite” for Roland Garros, rival Novak Djokovic said Monday, despite saying the Spaniard’s last-eight exit at the Italian Open showed he can be beaten on clay.
Nadal, a 12-time Roland Garros winner, lost in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open to world number 15 Diego Schwartzman.
“Even though he lost this week, I still think, a lot of people will agree, he’s the number one favourite and, the record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can’t put anybody in front of him,” said Djokovic.
World number one Djokovic beat Argentine Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3 in Monday’s final to win a fifth Rome title, and a record 36th Masters crown to move one better than Nadal.
“But, you know, definitely Diego showed that Nadal is beatable on clay,” added the Serb.
Conditions in Roland Garros could also have an impact, with the tournament pushed back to autumn because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nadal “prefers high bounces, that it is hot, that the ball goes fast,” said Djokovic, the French Open champion in 2016. “So let’s see. It’s going to be interesting. I think even though he’s the number one favourite, I think there are players that can win against him there.”
Schwartzman agreed that Nadal was the favourite.
“Rafa is the king. It’s his house. He went to Roland Garros many years playing good, sometimes not playing his best and he won.
“I think Rafa is always there, the guy who is going to win.”
Djokovic said getting back on court for a tournament so quickly after being disqualified at the U.S. Open for striking a line judge with a ball helped him move on from the incident.
The world number one came in for heavy criticism at Flushing Meadows earlier this month and the Serb said he spent several days processing what had happened.
“I did experience mentally some ups and downs in the first four-five days after that happened,” Djokovic told reporters.
“Obviously I was in shock... but I moved on, I’ve never had an issue in my life to move on regardless of how difficult it is.
“Obviously having a tournament a week after helped a lot because I really wanted to get on the court and get whatever trace of that out of the way.” Djokovic, who has won 31 of his 32 matches this year, said he would have to raise his game further to challenge for the title at the French Open, which begins on Sunday.
“I don’t think I played my best tennis to be honest, I don’t want to sound arrogant here. I am very satisfied and pleased to win a title. I know I still have a couple of gears,” he added.