Don't care if I'm favourite, says Rafael Nadal ahead of French Open

Updated: May 25, 2019, 10:37 IST | mid-day online desk

Rafael Nadal reckons there are host of good players to win at Roland Garros; says being competitive is what matters

Don't care if I'm favourite, says Rafael Nadal ahead of French Open
Defending champs Rafael Nadal (left) and Simona Halep during the French Open draw on Thursday. Pic/AP,PTI

French Open build-up Paris: Rafael Nadal said on Friday that he "doesn't care" if he is the red-hot favourite to lift a record-extending 12th French Open title at Roland Garros, insisting that there are a host of players in contention for the trophy. The world number two holds an incredible French Open win-loss record of 86-2, and hit top form by winning his ninth Italian Open last week with a final victory over old rival Novak Djokovic. Nadal could move to within two titles of Roger Federer's all-time men's record of 20 Grand Slam trophies if he lifts the Coupe des Mousquetaires on June 9.

"I don't care if I'm the favourite," he said. "I care about feeling well and playing well. "I appreciate that you (the media) see me like that, but (Dominic) Thiem, Novak (Djokovic), Federer, Tsitsipas who has been playing well, (Juan Martin) del Potro, (Kei) Nishikori -- all those that are the best in the world will be favourites. "The only thing that worries me is being well and being competitive. "The only favourite that matters is the one who has the cup at home in two weeks' time."

Before his triumph in Rome, it had been far from a trademark clay-court season for Nadal. The Spaniard failed in his bids for 12th titles in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona, where he lost in the semi-finals to Fabio Fognini and Thiem respectively. Another last-four exit followed on home soil in Madrid against Greek rising star Tsitsipas. Nadal admits it took him time to rediscover his top form after a one-month absence with the right knee injury which forced him to withdraw from Indian Wells before a scheduled semi-final against Federer. "When you're recovering from an injury it's also difficult to recover mentally," he said. "I had not had that for a long time. "Losing in the semi-finals is considered bad... Without playing especially well at the start of the clay season. "You have to have the humility to value small improvements. For me, one very positive thing was that before I started Rome, it was not a disaster -- I'd made three semi-finals. "It's not incredible, but it's not a total disaster either."

Warm-up on the fairways
Nadal, who faces a qualifier in the first round but could meet Federer or Tsitsipas in a potential semi-final clash, was pleased to get away from the court after his Rome success. "I have been at home, one day of golf, one day of family, and came back here. "(I've) already had two practices here. Good practices. (I'm) just trying to continue the preparation and just hold the level."

But Nadal will not be over-confident in the first week, pointing to his famous shock early Wimbledon defeats by Steve Darcis and Dustin Brown. "The problem with Dustin Brown is that if I play badly, I lose to anyone," he said. "In 2015, I was playing badly, it was normal to lose to a dangerous player on grass. "I also lost to Darcis in 2013. It's part of the sport. When one plays badly he usually loses." But Nadal has only lost to two men at Roland Garros since his triumphant debut in 2005 -- against the now-retired Robin Soderling and this year's top seed Djokovic, who he could face in the final as the Serbian chases a fourth consecutive Grand Slam crown.

Halep enjoying pressure of defending title
Reigning champion Simona Halep yesterday said that the pressure was off ahead of the start of her French Open title defence after ending her long wait for a Grand Slam trophy 12 months ago. The Romanian beat Sloane Stephens in Paris last year to clinch her maiden major crown in her fourth final, and is the third seed for the 2019 edition which starts at Roland Garros on Sunday.

"[It's] much better and much easier, because I have the title already," said Halep, who is the bookmakers' favourite to win a second straight title. "[It] doesn't matter anymore what is going to happen. Everything [that] comes now comes as a bonus. So I will try just to give my best and to see if I'm able to do it again."

Halep, 27, had faced consistent questions heading into the 2018 French Open about her ability to win the biggest tournaments despite holding the World No. 1 ranking for long spells, but finally put those doubts to bed. Now, she concedes that she is maybe too happy to have put herself in the position of defending champion, with a possible gruelling fortnight ahead.

"I am too happy to be in this position, I have to admit this. But it's nothing bad," she said. "I will try to do the things [I did] as a kid, enjoying the time. I wanted this badly, and I wanted [it] so much that now having it, I just want to be happy and to smile."

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