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French Open: Dominic Thiem aims to serve a surprise in Rafael Nadal lair

Austrian hopes to challenge 'king of clay' in cold conditions in Paris
Rafael Nadal

Agencies   |   Paris   |   Published 27.09.20, 03:24 AM

Rafael Nadal will aim to catch up with Roger Federer’s tally of 20 Grand Slam titles, while Serena Williams will once again be chasing her elusive 24th major crown when the French Open begins on Sunday.

But Roland Garros is synonymous with ‘King of Clay’ Nadal and the Spaniard, who skipped the US Open, is once again the favourite to clinch his record-extending 13th French Open title. He features on Day I itself and will face Belarusian Egor Gerasimov first up.

Federer will be absent from Paris with a knee injury, but Nadal is expected to face a tough challenge from top seed Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic has said he will not let the ball incident that caused his US Open disqualification affect the way he manages his emotions on court.

“Of course, it was a shock for me and a lot of people. But that’s life, that’s sport. These things can happen,” Djokovic, who is chasing an 18th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, said on Saturday.

“But I don’t think that this will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court… I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match. Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in a good way or maybe less good way.”

It will be interesting to see how the much talked-about next generation stars fare against the superstars on the tricky clay surface. Leading the charge for them will of course be Dominic Thiem, the newest member of the Grand Slam winners’ club.

The Austrian stylist seized his opportunity to win the US Open this month — beating Alexander Zverev in a gripping final.

While he acknowledges that Nadal remains the man to beat in Paris, Thiem believes the later start date for the tournament and different conditions opens the door. “It can be super rainy, super cold end of September, beginning of October. Maybe that’s tougher for him,” Thiem said.

‘Heavy’ ball

 French Open organisers have had enough problems dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the dwindling number of fans on site and inclement weather but they face another controversy— criticism of the choice of ball for this year’s edition.

Roland Garros has switched to Wilson balls for the 2020 tournament after using Babolat for many years and  Nadal was not impressed. “Different brand than last year, a new ball. The ball is much slower than the previous years. If we add these conditions of cold and humidity, then it is super heavy,” he said.                  

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