By Richard Pagliaro
Rafael Nadal will arrive in Paris facing the pressure of pursuing Roger Federer’s all-time Grand Slam record—and cooler autumn conditions which may sap some of the sting and height of his heavy topspin.
Yet the toughest challenge the 12-time Roland Garros champion faces is his lack of match play, says Toni Nadal, Rafa’s uncle and original coach.
In an interview with Daniela Hantuchova for Roland Garros’ YouTube channel, Toni Nadal says Rafa’s recent inactivity due to the Coronavirus will be a primary challenge in Paris.
“I think this year is complicated to play well,” Toni Nadal said. “Because first normally the people are not fully concentrated on the game. Because everyone knows what is the problem in life with the coronavirus.
“Then Rafael, the last tournament, he played in Acapulco the last tournament. That was in February. From February until now, that’s six, seven months without playing any tournaments. It’s complicated.”
The second-ranked Nadal, who opted against defending his US Open title to prepare for Roland Garros, returns in Rome tomorrow against compatriot US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta.
“But at the end I hope Rafael can win again,” Toni Nadal said. “I hope that he can make a big effort and try to win Roland Garros again. And if this is not possible, then Rafael has to prepare for the next year.”
Asked to select Rafa’s greatest Roland Garros moment, Uncle Toni picked two title runs.
First, in Rafa’s 2005 tournament debut when he topped world No. 1 Roger Federer and Mariano Puerta in succession to win his first Roland Garros crown. Then five years later when Nadal avenged his loss to Robin Soderling the prior year by sweeping the Swede in the final to take the 2010 Roland Garros championship without dropping a set.
“It’s tough but I remember the first victory was very important,” Toni Nadal said. “The first year, when we arrived there when Rafael won the tournament for the first time against Puerta for me it was a very special moment.
“Then, when Rafael beat in 2010 beat Soderling in the final it was very important for us. Because when Rafael lose in 2009 we went out of Roland Garros very sad. It was a bad moment in this time and I remember when he finished the game I said, Rafael, next year we have to win here.”