Roland Garros: When Rafa Speaks, The Media Listens Up

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Friday was French Open Media Day at Stade Roland Garros. When it was time for 12-time champion Rafael Nadal to take center stage, the media listened up. The much-admired King of Clay had plenty to express during his pre-tournament press conference. One thing was certain: Although the World No. 2 and second-seeded Nadal faces new challenges – both on and off the court – in competing in this year’s French Open, he’s tackling it all with the same positive outlook and attitude.

Early on, during his virtual press conference, the 34-year-old Nadal was asked about the challenges that he’s facing in Paris as well as the upside of his long break – and, just as important, is he healthy?

“We are just about to start a very important event, the most important event in my tennis career historically. I am just happy to be back here in this place, no?

“Of course, very sad about the situation, how it is, just having to do the press conference like this, not having you in front. No crowd. The situation is a little bit more difficult than usual without a doubt.

“But that’s it, no? I going to keep trying my best. I know going to be a big challenge to play well here. But I do it in the past. Totally think I know very well I have to keep giving me chances to find the best level possible.”

When Nadal was asked about circumstances off the court and how they will affect his usual routines, he said it personally wouldn’t make a big difference to him.

“That’s the routines outside of the court are not making a big impact on what can happen on the court. The conditions on the court, yes. The conditions on the court are complete different than the previous years.

“I just going to try to keep working hard. I think I had a good couple of practices. Knowing that today we are at 9 degrees [Celsius] here in Paris, so that’s extreme to play outdoor tournament. But I am not having bad feelings. I am trying to be focus on what I have to do to be ready. That’s my goal, just be ready for Monday, then let’s say.”

In the first round, Nadal will face No. 83 Egor Gerasimov of Belarus, whom he has not faced before.

Nadal was asked about the balls that will be used in this year’s Roland Garros tournament because they are different. (Wilson is now the official tennis ball of the French Open replacing Babolat, which had been used since 2011.) He said: “The ball is super heavy. Different brand than last year, a new ball. The ball is much slower than the previous years. If we add these conditions of cold and humidity, then is super heavy, no?

“You need time, yes. At the same time what you need is the right energy to accept every single thing, no? That’s what I am doing. Just stay positive knowing that the conditions are not perfect for me, maybe not perfect for others either, and accept that I going to need my best version to have chances.”

Nadal has only lost twice at Roland Garros, in 2009 to Robin Söderling and in 2015 to Novak Djokovic, while an injury forced him to retire during the 2016 tournament. This year, he has a chance to win his 20th Grand Slam, which would tie him with Roger Federer.

“I am just relaxed knowing that it’s a very special year. I am here just to give myself a chance to enjoy another Roland  Garros and, of course, to try my best to be competitive and fight for the final goal.”

Finally, Nadal was asked to comment about news that there will be only 1,000 spectators allowed on the grounds each day during the tournament, how it would compare to Rome and the US Open – which did not allow spectators – and what it might be like to play in Court Philippe Chatrier with so few fans.

“Of course, is not the ideal situation. Nobody likes to play with these conditions, no? That’s the thing.

“The only thing that we can say is say thanks to the US Open, to Roland Garros, to Rome, because they are trying hard to organize events, even probably knowing they going to lose money. That’s the beautiful things that our tour have. Is a moment to stay together, I think to fight for the comeback of our tour. That’s what’s happening. Of course, everybody wants to come back to the normal situation. But before that, we need to fix  the most important thing, and that is the worldwide health that today still under big problems.

“At least only thing we can say is thanks that we can play tennis again.”

Murray-Wawrinka: Life works in funny ways sometimes

“Life works in funny ways sometimes” Dani Vallverdu, former coach of 110th-ranked wild card  Andy Murray and current coach of World No. 17  Stan Wawrinka, told New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey. Vallverdu’s former and current pupils were drawn to face each other in the first round of the French Open, which begins Sunday. As Clarey suggests, “he might as well have been talking about the 2020 French Open as a whole.”

The Murray-Wawrinka clash of former Grand Slam champions will be part of Sunday’s opening day lineup at Roland Garros.

L’Equipe: Only 1,000 spectators per day

According to reporting by French sport daily L’Equipe, the French Open has confirmed that only 1,000 spectators per day will we allowed on the grounds at Stade Roland Garros, down from a previous estimate of 5,000 per day. The organizers “deeply regrets these new restrictions.”

The 5,000 daily ticket holders will now be put in a daily draw from which 750 of the general public will get in. There will be 200 spots for sponsors and 50 for French club and league representatives.

Any way you look at it, it’s definitely a huge drop from last year’s total attendance of 520,000.

Verdasco out of this year’s French Open

One of the most popular and enduring pros, 58th-ranked Fernando Verdasco of Spain, will not be playing this year’s French Open, where he’s reached the fourth round seven times and compiled a 32-16 lifetime record. He had played in 67 consecutive Grand Slam singles tournaments until missing this year’s US Open.

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