Maria Sharapova believes doubting Rafael Nadal’s chances at this year’s French Open is “disrespectful”, considering the Spaniard’s sensational record at the event.
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Nadal has been unable to win a title on European clay in the build-up to the French Open for the first time in his career and his No6 seeding has given him a tougher draw than he has had in the past, with a potential quarter-final date with Novak Djokovic looming ahead.
But Sharapova finds all these factors irrelevant.
“Everyone expects so much of Rafa at this time of the year. An individual loses a few matches, someone that's won this event, what is it nine times, I believe? To put so many question marks, I almost think it's a little bit disrespectful,” the two-time Roland Garros winner told reporters in Paris on Friday.
“He's an incredible champion, and he has no reason to be here doing it again, and his will and motivation to keep doing it and to keep proving to himself that he can do it again is pretty remarkable.
“It's actually been a little bit sad, because if I was in his shoes I'd be a pretty accomplished and satisfied player. Here he is just grinding away and proving everyone wrong. I think that's pretty respectful. I don't think he's thinking about what's ahead of him. I think we are all very professional enough to know what's just ahead of us, and that's just the first round.”
World No1 Serena Williams marveled at the prospect of Nadal potentially winning a 10th French Open and she said that, from experience, having people doubt her has spurred her on rather than discouraged her.
“For me, it definitely is an opportunity to prove everyone wrong. For every reason I like to do that. And also, at the same time, it takes a ton of pressure off you because it's like ‘oh, we might think this person will win and you are kind of in the background more than you would normally be,” said Williams, who has had her fair share of ups and downs in her career.
“It's often a good place to be at. You don't have pressure on you. The media isn't putting pressure on you and you're not really putting too much pressure on yourself, so it's a good position to be in.”
And on Nadal’s quest for a 10th trophy in Paris, Williams added: “It's amazing. I mean, in sport, it's never been done before. I think Martina Navratilova did nine at Wimbledon, which is amazing. And then now he has opportunity to do 10, at Roland Garros nonetheless, just makes it that much more difficult.
“Honestly, I feel like he can do it. If he doesn't do it this year, he can do it next year. He's young enough to have an opportunity to get to that number, and it's just – I think tennis and for sport in general, it's iconic. I don't know if it can be done again.”
Third-seeded Andy Murray stated that writing off Nadal for this event would be “stupid” and says it’s tricky to determine whether a Djokovic-Nadal quarter-final would be perceived differently by either player compared to a semi-final or final meeting.
“I don't really know who that would benefit right now, because I still think that if you're Novak going into that match, if they play in the quarters, then I think that's still the biggest hurdle to get over. So he's still going to put a lot of pressure on himself in that match, obviously. So I don't really know, to be honest what difference it makes to those guys,” said the Scot.
World No1 Novak Djokovic and nine-time champion Rafael Nadal have fallen in the same quarter of the 2015 French Open draw and could clash in the quarter-finals.
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Nadal, seeded No6 this year in Paris following the withdrawal of Milos Raonic, has defeated Djokovic all six times they have faced off at Roland Garros but they haven’t played each other earlier than the semi-finals here since 2006.
Djokovic, who is searching for a first French Open title in order to complete a career grand slam, opens his campaign against veteran Finnish lefty Jarkko Nieminen while Nadal gets 18-year-old French wildcard in the first round.
Third-seeded Andy Murray, who comes to Paris with a perfect 10-0 record on clay in the build-up, has landed in the same half as Djokovic and Nadal but might need to get past former runner-up David Ferrer in the quarter-finals before a potential semi against the Serb or the Spaniard.
2009 champion Roger Federer shares a half of the draw with fourth-seeded Tomas Berdych, fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori and eighth-seeded Stan Wawrinka.
Federer, who has a qualifier in the first round, and Wawrinka, who opens against Turkey’s Marsel Ilhan, could face off in the quarters while Nishikori and Berdych could have a last-eight date.
Talented young Aussies Thanasi Kokkinakis, Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios are all in the top half of the draw with the former two on a collision course for a second round encounter.
Kyrgios, seeded at a major for the first time in his career, could face Murray in the third round.
Tunisian Malek Jaziri, the only Arab in the draw, has a first round against Russian Andrey Kuznetsov.
On the women’s side, a mammoth third round looms for top-seeded Serena Williams in the form of former world No1 Victoria Azarenka.
Williams could face world No5 Caroline Wozniacki in the last eight while Madrid champion Petra Kvitova and last year’s semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard lie in the same half and could clash in the quarters.
Bouchard has a tricky opener against home favourite Kristina Mladenovic, who upset Li Na in the first round last year.
The bottom half of the ladies’ draw has defending champion Maria Sharapova and Spanish No8 seeded Carla Suarez Navarro – whom she just beat in the Rome final a week ago – share the same quarter, with 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic and last year’s runner-up Simona Halep posing as potential semi-final opponents for the Russian.
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) v Rafael Nadal (ESP x6)
Andy Murray (GBR x3) v David Ferrer (ESP x7)
Roger Federer (SUI x2) v Stan Wawrinka (SUI x8)
Tomas Berdych (CZE x4) v Kei Nishikori (JPN x5)
Serena Williams (USA x1) v Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x5)
Petra Kvitova (CZE x4) v Eugenie Bouchard (CAN x6)
Maria Sharavapova (RUS x2) v Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x8)
Simona Halep (ROU x3) v Ana Ivanovic (SRB x7)
First rounds to watch
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x10) v Jack Sock (USA)
Borna Coric (CRO) v Sam Querrey (USA)
Nicolas Almagro (ESP) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)
Venus Williams (USA x15) v Sloane Stephens (USA)
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN x6) v Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)
There will be an unfamiliar number between brackets next to Rafael Nadal’s name in the French Open draw, which will be conducted in Paris on Friday.
Depending on whether Milos Raonic will play or not (he’s recovering from a foot surgery), Nadal will either be seeded No 6 or No 7 at Roland Garros – his lowest ever position at the tournament he has won a record nine times.
Having a 5-8 seeding means Nadal can fall in the same quarter as Novak Djokovic and the pair could face off as early as the last-eight stage in Paris.
Other potential quarter-final opponents for Nadal would be Roger Federer, Andy Murray or Tomas Berdych, who round-up the world’s top four.
Nadal absolutely pulverizing the ball in his 1st French Open training session, hitting with Kevin Anderson.
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) May 20, 2015
The subject of whether French Open organisers should consider bumping up Nadal’s seeding given his incredible record at the event has been broached before and the people at the Federation Francaise de Tennis (FFT) have made it clear they have no intentions of doing so.
Wimbledon is the only major that takes into account previous results and has a specific formula that calculates a player’s seeding. The other three majors just stick to the ATP and WTA rankings.
Two years ago when Nadal was coming back from a knee injury, the Spaniard had briefly dropped to No 5 in the world after Monte Carlo and could have possibly been seeded No 5 at the French Open. In the build-up to Paris at the time, I felt that giving him a higher seeding was the way to go and so did many others.
But alas, Nadal ended up being seeded No 3 since Murray had pulled out and the Spaniard had managed to move up to No 4 in the world. This time, there is no way out.
Nadal could face Djokovic as early as the quarters and I actually think it is fair. This isn’t like two years ago when Nadal was having a phenomenal comeback from injury and was in-form.
This season, Nadal is simply not playing well enough and his slip in the rankings isn’t because he was sidelined but because he hasn’t been getting good results that can keep him high in the standings.
Why would he deserve a higher ranking when everyone above him has been playing better than him? The answer is, he doesn’t.
Surprisingly enough, Djokovic told the media in Rome that he thinks the FFT should bump up Nadal’s seeding. Surely this is just Djokovic trying to be respectful and diplomatic.
Nadal always needs time to reach his peak in Paris and tends to struggle in the earlier rounds. Facing Djokovic in a quarter-final instead of a final could make all the difference for the Serb who has lost to Nadal six times in Paris and his mental strength tends to go down a notch when he’s playing him there.