Tennis

Rafael Nadal beatable on clay, says Italian Open winner Novak Djokovic

World No. 1 believes the Spaniard showed that he is not invincible on his favourite surface with Rome exit

Rafael Nadal remains "No. 1 favourite" for Roland Garros, said his rival Novak Djokovic, but the Spaniard's last-eight exit at the Italian Open showed he can be beaten on clay.

Nadal, a 12-time Roland Garros winner, lost in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open to world No. 13 Diego Schwartzman, who was beaten 7-5, 6-3 by Djokovic in the Italian Open final.

"Even though (Nadal) lost this week, I still think, a lot of people will agree, he's the No. 1 favourite and, the record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can't put anybody in front of him," said world No. 1 Djokovic.

By claiming a fifth Rome title, and a record 36th Masters crown, the Serb moved one better than Nadal.

"But, you know, definitely Diego showed that Nadal is beatable on clay," added Djokovic.

Conditions in Roland Garros, where the French Open starts on Sunday, could also have an impact, with the tournament pushed back to autumn because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nadal "prefers high bounces, that it is hot, that the ball goes fast," said Djokovic, who won the French Open in 2016.

"So let's see. It's going to be interesting. Even though he's the No. 1 favourite, there are players that can win against him there."

Schwartzman agreed that Nadal was the favourite, saying: "Rafa is the king. It's his house. He went to Roland Garros many years playing good, sometimes not playing his best, and he won.

"Rafa is always there, the guy who is going to win."

Djokovic, who was still emerging from the controversy at the US Open, where he was disqualified for striking a line judge with a ball, said returning to court for a tournament so quickly helped him move on from the incident.

Having been severely criticised at Flushing Meadows earlier this month, Djokovic said he spent several days processing what had happened.

"I did experience mentally some ups and downs in the first four, five days after that happened," Djokovic said.

"Obviously, I was in shock... but I moved on, I've never had an issue in my life to move on regardless of how difficult it is.

"Obviously, having a tournament a week after helped a lot because I really wanted to get on the court and get whatever trace of that out of the way."

SOUND ARROGANT

Djokovic, who has won 31 of his 32 matches this year, said he would have to raise his game further to challenge for the French Open title.

"I don't think I played my best tennis, to be honest. I don't want to sound arrogant here. I am very satisfied and pleased to win a title. I know I still have a couple of gears," he added.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to raise that level for the French Open because that's going to be necessary if I want to go deep in the tournament."

There was still controversy involving Djokovic in Rome, although it was not of his doing.

Organisers of the Italian Open and the tennis tours came under fire on social media after it emerged that Djokovic's prize money of 205,200 euros (S$329,000) was 10 euros more than women's winner Simona Halep.

"People who made a pay gap in cents are misogynists. Period," said a Twitter user.

Last year, Nadal bagged 958,055 euros as the men's champion in Rome, almost double the prize money for women's winner Karolina Pliskova. - AFP, REUTERS

Tennis