Rafael Nadal 1131254

Defending champion Rafa Nadal begins his French Open campaign on Monday, seeking his 12th title and 18th Grand Slam while looking to dismiss any doubts about his form after three consecutive semi-final exits in the run-up to Roland Garros.

Three different players ousted the Spaniard in claycourt tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before he roared back to his best to beat world number one Novak Djokovic in the final in Rome.

Nadal, a known stickler for routine and order, arrives at a revamped court Philippe Chatrier which has been 80% rebuilt for this year’s tournament, but the 32-year-old said he will not be affected by the changes.

He is generally a slow starter but should not have any problem getting past his first-round opponent, Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann.

The 27-year-old, who turned professional only four years ago, has never advanced past the opening round of a Grand Slam but he feels no pressure facing the championship favourite.

“I’ll know a lot about him and maybe he doesn’t know as much about me,” he said in an interview on the Roland Garros website.

“I’ve been playing well. I’ve got a big game… So if my serve and return works, I can definitely do some damage.”

While the crowd may be overwhelmingly in favour of Nadal, it is not something that affects Hanfmann, who has a hearing impairment.

“It’s an advantage on court,” he added. “Maybe on Chatrier, it’ll be an advantage because I don’t hear that much that’s going on.”

In the other half of the draw, Djokovic begins his quest to hold all four Grand Slam titles for the second time in his career when he takes on Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz.

Djokovic became the first man since Australia’s Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slams in 2016 when he won his only French Open title…https://reut.rs/30J6ub8

By Ian Dei

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