Pablo Carreno Busta is well aware of what he’s up against when he takes on an in-form and healthy Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros quarter-finals on Tuesday. It is by far the toughest challenge in tennis today.
Nadal has lost just two out of 101 best-of-five matches on clay throughout his entire career. That stat alone sounds discouraging. But not for the 25-year-old Carreno Busta, who is having his best season to date and is playing his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final.
“If I think that I don’t have chances, I will not play. So for sure I think I have chances,” the Spaniard told reporters at the French Open.
“Is really difficult, because Rafa is maybe the best player in this surface of the history, and he’s playing really good, but I will try. I’m playing good. I’m with a lot of confidence.”
Carreno Busta has every reason to feel confident. He has won 27 matches in 2017 (fourth-most on tour), including a title run on the clay of Estoril, a runner-up showing in Rio, and a semi-final run at Indian Wells.
McEnroe to Carreno Busta before Nadal match: Think small, set yourself some achievable goals, like getting two games per set (via Eurosport) pic.twitter.com/m86eppL9qk— Ilya Ryvlin (@ryvlin) June 6, 2017
His trip to the Roland Garros quarters means he will move back into the top eight in the ATP Race to London standings, solidifying his position as one of the best players on tour so far this season.
Carreno Busta is 0-3 against Nadal head-to-head but he took a set off him in Doha last year. They haven’t faced off since the Rio Olympics last summer.
Carlos Moya, Nadal’s coach, has seen a significant change in Carreno Busta’s game over the past 18 months or so.
“Even last year I realised he was more aggressive, that’s what I thought when I was coaching Milos (Raonic), we played against him. But I followed him throughout the year and I’ve realised that he’s more aggressive now than he used to be,” said Moya, a Roland Garros champion in 1998.
“Before he was just high intensity but not really many winners, but now I feel that if he has an easy ball that ball doesn’t come back. That’s the way tennis is played nowadays, that’s how it works. It took him a while to realise but now he’s doing that very well, probably his team and coach are helping him a lot and he’s a dangerous player.”
Carreno Busta comes off as a laid back character off the court. He’s always smiling, has a funny personality in press conferences and is enjoying the big stage now that he’s reached it.
“You are a very good tennis player, but not so good at match points,” a journalist joked with him after his narrow win over Milos Raonic in the fourth round that required seven match points before he sealed the deal.
“Thank you,” Carreno Busta quipped back with a grin.
It was Carreno Busta’s first top-10 win, ending a 16-match losing streak against such opposition.
When he was asked if he had his eyes on the ATP Finals in London at the end of the year, now that he’s in the top-eight in the Race, he Gijon-native said: “London (smiling). Nice city. But I think is not a real goal to be in London. Maybe in a few months I hope that we continue thinking about this, or you continue thinking about this. And we’ll see. But at the moment, I just thinking about Rafa,” he admitted.
Carreno Busta made his Davis Cup debut for Spain last year and team captain Conchita Martinez had nothing but praise for him.
“He has a good character, he’s laid back but also goes for his shots,” said Martinez. “I think he’s believing more in his possibilities at the moment. He’s breaking through so many things right now. To be here and playing Rafa is going to be amazing I think. He was looking up to him and now he gets to play him.”
Carreno Busta has spent almost four more hours on court this fortnight in Paris compared to Nadal, who has blasted through his opening four rounds in sensational fashion, dropping a total of just 20 games.
“For me, Rafa is the best player on this surface. He’s a really good friend. So it will be a really special match for me. I will try to enjoy this match and learn a lot. I will play against the best. And then we’ll see. Maybe I play and I lose easy or maybe I play and I win easy. You never know,” said Carreno Busta.
Moya feels Nadal’s form right now in Paris is the “perfect situation” as the Mallorcan attempts to become the first man to reach 10 semi-finals at Roland Garros.
“It hasn’t surprised me (how well Nadal is playing),” says Moya.
“This is probably the best tennis he’s playing since the beginning of the year, now he has the confidence of all these matches that he won since January. In January he was practicing very well, he was healthy, but he needed those matches that take you to 100 per cent of your potential.
“Now he’s not there, he’s close to that. It’s the perfect situation for us. If you asked me two months ago how would I like to get here I would tell you the way he’s playing now.”
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