Rafael Nadal 'can't wait' to return to Roland Garros in pursuit of title No 12
Spanish world No 2 made a timely return to form with an emphatic title-winning campaign at the Italian Open
Rafael Nadal said winning the Italian Open is the perfect preparation ahead of his French Open title defence.
The Spanish world No 2 banished doubts about his clay court form - which arose after three successive semi-final defeats - by thrashing top seed Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 for a ninth title in Rome and a record 34th Masters.
Nadal's timely return to form ensures he is once again the firm favourite to win a record-extending 12th Roland Garros trophy.
"I am going to be there with time enough, as always," said 32-year-old Nadal. "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 and it looks great. Still open, still not closed. It's a different stadium, but the feeling probably will not be very different."
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.
"For me, the most important thing is to feel myself playing well and feel myself healthy, with the energy that I need. If that happens, experience is that I am going to fight for titles sooner or later."
Nadal had not dropped a set all week before the final taking a 6-0 set from four of his five opponents in Rome.
"During the last couple of weeks, every day and every week have been better," he said. "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 advanced past the semi-finals in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.
"After Indian Wells, there were some tough moments for me in terms of recovering again," he said. "I didn't arrive very well prepared to Monte-Carlo. There have been some low moments for me. The first round in Barcelona, that was a disaster."
'Nadal No 1 favourite, without a doubt'
Nadal overtakes Djokovic at the top of the list for Masters wins - the pair were level at 33 each before Sunday's final - although the latter still holds a 28-26 career edge.
Djokovic is targetting his fourth grand slam in a row after Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. The 31-year-old's only title in Paris was in 2016.
"Nadal, No 1 favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else," said the 15-time grand slam winner. "But I think it's going to be a good tournament. Dominic Thiem is playing some really, really good tennis.
"He can beat anybody really, especially on clay. (Fabio) Fognini also playing great quality tennis. He showed it against Nadal in Monte-Carlo what he's capable of.
"I mean, on a given day, best-of-five, with one day between matches, I think players will have enough time to really be at their best.
"Everyone is trying to peak for Roland Garros, without a doubt. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a great tournament."
Updated: May 20, 2019 06:33 PM