Halep shrugs off expectations; Nadal eager for Roland Garros return - GulfToday

Halep shrugs off expectations; Nadal eager for Roland Garros return

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Simona Halep plays a shot. File/ AFP

Defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal said on Sunday that he can’t wait to hit the clay courts of Roland Garros after claiming his first title this season and ninth Italian Open trophy.

French Open champion Simona Halep meanwhile has said won’t be burdened by expectations that she can repeat last year’s triumph and would rather focus on enjoying the Grand Slam which starts on Sunday.

Nadal defeated world number one Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 for a record 34rd Masters, leaving his vanquished foe to label the Spaniard as “the number one favourite for Roland Garros”.

“I am going to be there with time enough, as always,” said 32-year-old Nadal, who wants to capture a 12th trophy in Paris.

“I’m going to repeat my normal routines. For sure I can’t wait to be there and have the feeling, see the stadium, watch all the new great things that Roland Garros is doing,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner said of the rebuilt Philippe Chatrier Centre Court.

“I saw a picture. Looks great. Still open, still not closed. Is a different stadium, but the feeling probably will not be very different.

“This year, I don’t see a big difference. The wind is going to be the same as always. Court is still big.” His first title this season, and particularly on his favourite clay surface, is a huge boost for the Spaniard.

“Happy to reach that level in the last tournament before a Grand Slam,” said Nadal.

“But, as I said, for me I don’t want to talk about Grand Slams now. I never did in the past. Important title, now’s the moment to keep going.”

“For me, the most important thing is to feel myself playing well and feel myself healthy, with the energy that I need,” said Nadal.

“If that happens, experience is that I am going to fight for titles sooner or later.” The 32-year-old had not dropped a set all week before the final taking a 6-0 set from four his five rivals.

“During the last couple of weeks, every day and every week have been better. And here we are finally with this great trophy, an important victory.”

Nadal pulled out of Indian Wells with a knee injury, and had not gotten past the semi-finals in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

French Open champion Simona Halep meanwhile has said won’t be burdened by expectations that she can repeat last year’s triumph and would rather focus on enjoying the Grand Slam which starts on Sunday. The 27-year-old Romanian enters Roland Garros as favourite for the title given the contrasting form of some of the top names, including Japan’s world number one Naomi Osaka, but her own claycourt preparation has not been spectacular either.

World number three Halep could have knocked Osaka off top spot by winning the Madrid Open earlier this month but lost in straight sets to Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens in the final.

A few days later, she fell at her first hurdle in the Italian Open, losing to Marketa Vondrousova — Halep’s second defeat by the 19-year-old Czech this year after a three-set loss at Indian Wells.

However, the Romanian said she did not feel any extra pressure to retain her title at Roland Garros.

“I have no expectations because it’s the first time when I have to defend a trophy at a Grand Slam,” she told Romania’s Digi Sport TV station. “(I just want to) be relaxed, enjoy the tournament and try to win some matches. Nothing more!”

Halep has been backed by former French Open champions Mats Wilander and Justine Henin to join an elite group of players in retaining her crown, with three-times men’s champion Wilander saying Halep versus Serena Williams would be “a dream final”.

Agencies

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