It is noon in Paris, where the sun is hot as rarely. Far from sheltering under some awning, Parisians gladly expose themselves to the rays, which make their skins rosy while they brasseries they cash out with the terraces and at the reception of a hotel, a receptionist in his 60s tells a guest who presents his reservation: “Nadal again, right?” And the Mallorcan, oblivious to the prediction, continues some 500 meters from there erre que erre, on the track early in the day and also at that time; double ration, as on Friday, the same as on Thursday, for that reason to refine still a little more, in case the flies; nine hours of training in the last three days. At the end of the day, the challenge you face is nothing short of the greatest: to definitely become a champion like no other.
There are the numbers, the temptation of the great dream: the 14th Roland Garros trophy, the 21st of a Grand Slam. The one that would be a gigantic blow of effect and would mark another turning point in the history of tennis, since the Spaniard (34 years old) has never managed to get ahead of Roger Federer (39), in command since in 2009 he surpassed the record of American Pete Sampras (14 majors) with his sixth Wimbledon title. Nadal neutralized the Swiss last fall, in that strange and cold edition in which he dominated the elements and dispatched the rivals with an iron fist, and now he goes to Paris in the form of an ordeal because in the case of winning he would give a blow hegemonic dimensions.
“This is a very important tournament for me and I have to arrive as well prepared as possible. The other we already know is there, the 21 or 14, is a fact. Thank goodness and luckily, I am in this situation. But we are far from all this ”, he reduces while the tournament has already erected the promised statue and recalls in a publication the idyllic relationship between the Balearic Islands and the country. “Rafael, the français”. “Nadal, the Frenchman”, he headlines and remembers going back to that adolescent whirlwind that impressed Gael Monfils, a fifth-year teammate, when he discovered him in 1999 during a tournament in Tarbes, both of them only 13 years old at the time.
At that time, the Frenchman Richard Gasquet was on everyone’s lips. “Everyone talks about Richard, but he doesn’t scare me; the one who really scares me is the other… ”, says Monfils, who has been proven by time. Evolved and in a different game register, less physical but more cerebral, much more complete, Nadal will tackle these two weeks the challenge of becoming a unique winner; if he exceeds it, only three women would appear above him: Margaret Court (24), Serena Williams (23) and Steffi Graf (22). And he will do it in a special edition, in which for the first time he, Federer and Novak Djokovic converge in the same branch of the team.
“I see it naturally,” he says. “One is almost 40 years old, another almost 35 and another 34; the logical thing is that young people go up in the ranking and these things happen ”, he relativizes, knowing that he could run into the Serbian, number one, in a hypothetical semifinal and that between the two they have taken 10 of the last 11 majors. “Right now, that worries me little; I have a lot of work ahead of Djokovic, if that happens. My way now is Popyrin [su rival en la primera ronda, el martes]. It is a painting that is demanding enough to think beyond it ”, warns Nadal, the epicenter of an event that since 2005, the date of its first success, has gravitated around it.
Undisputed attractiveness, the Spanish has landed in the appointment from less to more, as usual. He raised the titles of Barcelona and Rome, and at the Foro Italico he gave a coup of authority against Nole. The Balkan, however, promises something more than battle. “Since that day [la final romana], I’m hitting the ball very well and I think I can beat anyone, even Rafa in Paris, “he said on Saturday, after winning the Belgrade tournament (6-3 and 6-1 to Alex Molcan) and raising his 83rd trophy as professional. Like Nadal, he will debut on Tuesday (against Tennys Sandgren), while Federer (Denis Istomin) will make it tomorrow.
Meanwhile, this Sunday (starting at 11.00, Eurosport) starts the activity with the intervention of seven Spaniards – Bautista and Vilella face off, and Carreño, Davidovich, Andújar, Taberner and Paula Badosa also parade – and tomorrow he will perform for the first time in Paris the promising Carlos Alcaraz, 18 years old and who managed to get through the qualifying phase. Other focuses of attention point to the return of Carla Suárez, after 16 months of absence and defeating cancer, and Garbiñe Muguruza’s options in the indecipherable women’s team, where Iga Swiatek defends the triumph of last year and the alternation translates into nine different champions in the last 10 editions.