Two weeks before Roland-Garros (May 22-June 5), Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic make a final stop in Rome with, for the first, clear ideas on what needs to be improved, and, for the second , with a boost. to be confirmed.
In more than fifteen years during which he imposed his ultra-dominance on clay, Nadal has never thrown his ocher season so late (except for the 2020 Covid-19 break) that this year: May 3 .
He blamed a fatigue fracture on a rib that stopped him dead in late March in his formidable start to the season: 21st Australian Grand Slam coronation record and twenty wins in twenty matches.
“It was an important stop, which fell very badly during the season,” he summed up before the Madrid tournament.
Specifically: the Mallorcan was completely out of action for a month, resumed the racket just two weeks earlier and only started serving once he arrived in the Spanish capital.
Ideally, he would have preferred to return to competition a week earlier in Estoril (Portugal), in more favorable conditions: a lower tournament at sea level, where the ball is easier to control. “But I wasn’t prepared, I couldn’t take the risk,” he says.
– “medium term” –
Three games in three sets later, against Serbian in form Miomir Kecmanovic, David Goffin – against whom he saved four game points – and the phenomenon Carlos Alcaraz, Nadal, eliminated in the fourth in Madrid, has “a clear vision” of what he will have to implement to “arrive with a little more possibilities next week (in Rome), and especially in two weeks’ time” in Paris.
Physically, “I have to improve my reaction speed, I’m aware that I have to be more dynamic, have a better reading of the game, and that my legs are still there,” he explains.
As for the game, “I have to play deeper, have the ability to spin more often and faster around my backhand with my topspin right, regain speed, list the current world N.4. Comes with the times and the parties “.
“We must continue on this path with the same determination. With the goal I have in the medium term, there is no room for the sadness of having lost,” concludes Nadal.
In Rome, he will start against John Isner, not the best client to find the rhythm, nor a knockout. Then he could find Goffin, and why not meet Djokovic in the semifinals. On the other hand, there will be no reunion with Alcaraz, as the Spanish prodigy decided after his coronation in Madrid, where he swept Alexander Zverev (6-3, 6-1) in the final on Sunday, to give up the appointment . .
Knocked in turn by Alcaraz the day after Christmas, Djokovic had his bad days at a press conference on Saturday evening: with four laconic answers on his scale, the world No.1 dismissed him in less than five minutes.
– “Cannot be capitalized” –
Hot, the Serb blamed himself for not being able to “kill” the game in the second set (two breaks at the end of the set): “It was a fantastic match, but I’m disappointed I couldn’t. “I didn’t know how to capitalize when it was important,” he said.
However, the one looking for sensations after an almost stopped first quarter marked by his unlikely expulsion from Australia, for lack of vaccination against Covid-19, is certainly “on the right track”.
After a slow start to the tournament (against Monfils and Hurkacz, Murray lost between the two), his rise to power was evident, both in game and in attitude: against the Spanish nugget, he endured the clash for more than three and a half. hours.
“I’ve played really good tennis, the best of the year. Probably when the disappointment of losing is over, I’ll take a lot of positives this week,” he said.
Djokovic will start his Roman week against Russian Aslan Karatsev, who will be the world number 35 on Monday. The two men have a victory, but Karatsev defeated Djokovic in his only meeting on clay, which is more on Serbian soil, in Belgrade in April 2021.
“Djoko” could later meet Felix Auger-Aliassime or Diego Schwartzman. Meanwhile, in less than a month and three tournaments, it is already day and night between the “Djoko” of Monte Carlo and Madrid.