GENEVA: Novak Djokovic on Tuesday said Rafael Nadal was his favourite to win the French Open, despite the record 14-time champion struggling for fitness in the twilight of his career.

World number one Djokovic is tuning up at the Geneva Open this week before the second Grand Slam of the year begins in Paris.

He said if Nadal was in the French Open draw, he could not be ruled out, despite his injury problems and growing competition from a younger generation.

“This year is more open,” French Open defending champion Djokovic told reporters at the Parc des Eaux-Vives grounds in Geneva.

“Casper Ruud is surely one of the five players who are candidates to win. You have Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas — all the players who won a major tournament on this surface this year.

“But when you talk about Roland-Garros and Nadal is there, he is always the biggest favourite for me. After everything he has done on the courts at Roland-Garros, it’s normal, respectfully to put him as the biggest favourite. Obviously it’s a little different with his level of play. But it’s Roland-Garros, and it’s Nadal.

“After that, maybe me, if I feel good, if I play well. At Roland-Garros, and all the Grand Slams, I am a bit of a different player.”

Djokovic, who turns 37 on Wednesday, took a wild card to play in Geneva in a bid to rescue an alarming dip in form ahead of his French Open title defence next week.

The 28-man Swiss clay court tournament serves as a final warm-up.

The record 24-time Grand Slam champion will arrive in Paris without a title in the season for the first time since 2018, unless he wins Geneva.

While time has caught up with Nadal, 37, Djokovic said he was hungry to keep playing at the top.

“I’m searching for my highest possible level,” he said. “It’s not an obligation. It’s truly my desire, my feeling, my passion, my love for tennis. That’s the most important. I’m seeking to stay connected with that feeling.”

Djokovic’s preparations for the French Open have been far from ideal, beginning with a loss to Ruud in the Monte Carlo semi-finals.

He then opted to skip the Madrid Open before losing in the third round of the Italian Open, two days after he was hit on the head by a fan’s water bottle while signing autographs.

The Serbian, who said he felt out of sorts during his 6-,2 6-3 loss to Alejandro Tabilo, told reporters: “The head is good. All is well. I’ve trained for over a week and I’m feeling fine.

“I’ve dedicated quite a bit of time with my new fitness coach to build the endurance, to build physical strength and capabilities that I need in order to play a best-of-five Grand Slam on the physically most demanding surface, which is clay. So, hopefully, I’m going to get more than one match here in Geneva, that’s the goal and then let’s see what happens in Paris. The reason why I chose to come and play is because I feel like, at this moment, there is no better practice for me than match play.”

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2024

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