(AFP) – Rafael Nadal said on Friday that he “doesn’t care” if he is the red-hot favourite to lift a record-extending 12th French Open title at Roland Garros, insisting that there are a host of players in contention for the trophy.
The world number two holds an incredible French Open win-loss record of 86-2, and hit top form by winning his ninth Italian Open last week with a final victory over old rival Novak Djokovic.
Nadal could move to within two titles of Roger Federer’s all-time men’s record of 20 Grand Slam trophies if he lifts the Coupe des Mousquetaires on June 9.
“I don’t care if I’m the favourite,” he said. “I care about feeling well and playing well.
“I appreciate that you (the media) see me like that, but (Dominic) Thiem, Novak (Djokovic), Federer, Tsitsipas who has been playing well, (Juan Martin) del Potro, (Kei) Nishikori — all those that are the best in the world will be favourites.
“The only thing that worries me is being well and being competitive.
“The only favourite that matters is the one who has the cup at home in two weeks’ time.”
Before his triumph in Rome, it had been far from a trademark clay-court season for Nadal.
The Spaniard failed in his bids for 12th titles in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona, where he lost in the semi-finals to Fabio Fognini and Thiem respectively.
Another last-four exit followed on home soil in Madrid against Greek rising star Tsitsipas.
Nadal admits it took him time to rediscover his top form after a one-month absence with the right knee injury which forced him to withdraw from Indian Wells before a scheduled semi-final against Federer.
“When you’re recovering from an injury it’s also difficult to recover mentally,” he said. “I had not had that for a long time.
“Losing in the semi-finals is considered bad… Without playing especially well at the start of the clay season.
“You have to have the humility to value small improvements. For me, one very positive thing was that before I started Rome, it was not a disaster — I’d made three semi-finals.
“It’s not incredible, but it’s not a total disaster either.”
– Warm-up on the fairways –
Nadal, who faces a qualifier in the first round but could meet Federer or Tsitsipas in a potential semi-final clash, was pleased to get away from the court after his Rome success.
“I have been at home, one day of golf, one day of family, and came back here.
“(I’ve) already had two practices here. Good practices. (I’m) just trying to continue the preparation and just hold the level.”
But Nadal will not be over-confident in the first week, pointing to his famous shock early Wimbledon defeats by Steve Darcis and Dustin Brown.
“The problem with Dustin Brown is that if I play badly, I lose to anyone,” he said. “In 2015, I was playing badly, it was normal to lose to a dangerous player on grass.
“I also lost to Darcis in 2013. It’s part of the sport. When one plays badly he usually loses.”
But Nadal has only lost to two men at Roland Garros since his triumphant debut in 2005 — against the now-retired Robin Soderling and this year’s top seed Djokovic, who he could face in the final as the Serbian chases a fourth consecutive Grand Slam crown.