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.
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.