Rome—Rafael Nadal remains “number one favorite” for Roland Garros, rival Novak Djokovic said Monday, despite saying the Spaniard’s last-eight exit at the Italian Open showed he can be beaten on clay.
Nadal, a 12-time Roland Garros winner, lost in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open to world number 15 Diego Schwartzman.
“Even though he lost this week, I still think, a lot of people will agree, he’s the number one favourite and, the record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can’t put anybody in front of him,” said Djokovic.
World number one Djokovic beat Argentine Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3 in Monday’s final to win a fifth Rome title, and a record 36th Masters crown to move one better than Nadal.
“But, you know, definitely Diego showed that Nadal is beatable on clay,” added the Serb.
Conditions in Roland Garros could also have an impact, with the tournament pushed back to autumn because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nadal “prefers high bounces, that it is hot, that the ball goes fast,” said Djokovic, the French Open champion in 2016.
“So let’s see. It’s going to be interesting. I think even though he’s the number one favourite, I think there are players that can win against him there.”
Schwartzman agreed that Nadal was the favourite.
“Rafa is the king. It’s his house. He went to Roland Garros many years playing good, sometimes not playing his best and he won.
“I think Rafa is always there, the guy who is going to win.”
The world number one lifted a record 36th Masters crown, one more than great rival Rafael Nadal, after beating Diego Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3 in the final at the Foro Italico in Rome.
“Turning to Paris, I couldn’t ask for a better tournament here in Rome. Another big title and I’m super pleased,” said Djokovic.
“I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week, but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it in the decisive moments.”
Djokovic extended his record to 31 wins from 32 matches this year, with his only loss the US Open disqualification for accidently hitting a line judge with a ball.
Schwartzman had shocked nine-time tournament winner Nadal in the quarter-finals.
But he ran out of steam in a final played under light drizzle, having also spent more than three hours on the court in Sunday’s semi-finals.
Top women’s seed Simona Halep lifted her first trophy in Rome, a confidence booster ahead of the French Open, after defending champion Karolina Pliskova retired injured while trailing 6-0, 2-1 in the final.
World number two Halep was competing in her third Rome WTA final, having finished runner-up in 2017 and 2018.
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