ROME, Italy, May 20 – Defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal said Sunday he can’t wait to hit the clay courts of Roland Garros after claiming his first title this season and ninth Italian Open trophy.
Nadal defeated world number one Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 for a record 34rd Masters, leaving his vanquished foe to label the Spaniard as “the number one favourite for Roland Garros”.
“I am going to be there with time enough, as always,” said 32-year-old Nadal, who wants to capture a 12th trophy in Paris.
“I’m going to repeat my normal routines. For sure I can’t wait to be there and have the feeling, see the stadium, watch all the new great things that Roland Garros is doing,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner said of the rebuilt Philippe Chatrier Centre Court.
“I saw a picture. Looks great. Still open, still not closed. Is a different stadium, but the feeling probably will not be very different.
“This year, I don’t see a big difference. The wind is going to be the same as always. Court is still big.”
His first title this season, and particularly on his favourite clay surface, is a huge boost for the Spaniard.
“Happy to reach that level in the last tournament before a Grand Slam,” said Nadal.
“But, as I said, for me I don’t want to talk about Grand Slams now. I never did in the past. Important title, now’s the moment to keep going.”
Djokovic — winner at the Madrid Open last week — gave an error-strewn display in his 54th meeting with second-ranked Nadal, having spent six hours on court in his previous two matches.
“For me, the most important thing is to feel myself playing well and feel myself healthy, with the energy that I need,” said Nadal.
“If that happens, experience is that I am going to fight for titles sooner or later.”
The 32-year-old had not dropped a set all week before the final taking a 6-0 set from four his five rivals.
“During the last couple of weeks, every day and every week have been better. And here we are finally with this great trophy, an important victory.”
Nadal pulled out of Indian Wells with a knee injury, and had not gotten past the semi-finals in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.
“After Indian Wells, there have been some tough moments for me in terms of recovering again,” he said.
“I didn’t arrive very well prepared to Monte-Carlo. There have been some low moments for me.
“The first round in Barcelona, that was a disaster.”
– ‘Trying to peak’ –
Nadal had been stunned by Stefanos Tsitsipas, a player 12 years his junior, in the semi-finals in Madrid.
But the Spaniard brushed aside the Greek in the semi-finals in the Italian capital on Friday.
“Yesterday (Saturday against Tsitsipas) was probably was my best match on clay so far this season before today (Sunday), because today I played better than yesterday.”
Nadal overtakes Djokovic at the top of the list for Masters wins — the pair were level at 33 each before Sunday’s final — although the latter still holds a 28-26 career edge.
Djokovic is targetting his fourth Grand Slam in a row after Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.
The 31-year-old’s only title in Paris was in 2016.
“Nadal, number one favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else,” said the 15-time Grand Slam winner.
“But I think it’s going to be a good tournament. Dominic Thiem is playing some really, really good tennis.
“He can beat anybody really, especially on clay. (Fabio) Fognini also playing great quality tennis. He showed it against Nadal in Monte-Carlo what he’s capable of.
“I mean, on a given day, best-of-five, with one day between matches, I think players will have enough time to really be at their best.
“Everyone is trying to peak for Roland Garros, without a doubt.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a great tournament.”