• Chris Wilkinson

Rafa's on fire but Novak's the French Open favourite

Chris Wilkinson April 30, 2013
Rafael Nadal is back in red hot form © AP
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Rafael Nadal won the Barcelona Open for the eighth time with victory over Nicolas Almagro and his return to fitness and form has been remarkable, but I still feel Novak Djokovic is the favourite for next month's French Open.

What Nadal has achieved since coming back from injury is nothing short of remarkable. He was sidelined for seven months and there were concerns about whether he would be able to come back, but his start to 2013 has been superb. And when you consider what he has achieved in the game and how long he has been out, to come back and play six tournaments, win four with two other final defeats, there are some really good numbers there.

I saw he said that his knee is still bothering him, but it probably will always bother him for the rest of his career. There is an issue there but for him it is about managing it. And as you get older you understand your body better, so he understands how far to push his knees. The beauty for him now is that it is the clay-court season and it is a surface he grew up on. His movement on the clay is not as demanding as on the hard courts so there are a lot of positives and he has much to look forward to with his physicality over the next few weeks and months.

But for all that Rafa has achieved, I do not see him as the favourite for the French Open. Before Monte Carlo maybe Rafa was the favourite for Roland Garros, but seeing the way Novak Djokovic played against Nadal in the final, I would have Djokovic as the favourite.

Looking at some of the stats from that final, it was interesting how Djokovic targeted Rafa's backhand and exposed it. When Nadal served and hit a backhand as his first groundstroke, Nadal only won two out of 16 points so it shows the tactics that Djokovic was trying to expose the backhand. Usually Nadal's gameplan is to use his forehand to dominate from the baseline but he was not able to execute that on the day due to the smart play from Djokovic.

When Nadal served and hit a backhand as his first groundstroke, Nadal only won two out of 16 points so it shows the tactics that Djokovic was trying to expose the backhand

It is all about game plans as all these top guys are physically strong and on that day in Monte Carlo, Djokovic took away Nadal's favoured style. Djokovic has the game, he has the belief, he can hold the baseline and I would possibly have to go with Djokovic for Paris, even though it is the one grand slam missing from his CV.

Rafa remains at No. 5 in the world rankings but I would be very surprised if he is not seeded in the top four at Roland Garros. Personally I think they should seed him two on account of what he has achieved there. On clay it only seems right he is seeded two but these grand slams have different rules and do it their own way so we will have to wait and see, but if he is seeded five the top guys would be facing him in the quarters and I just can't see that happening.

But before Roland Garros the guys are back at Madrid for a Masters 1000 event. It starts next week, I will be commentating there all week so will get a good look at the players, and we have Roger Federer coming back. It is his first clay tournament of the year so it will be interesting to see how he plays and we'll see how Andy Murray gets on on the clay having lost early on in Monte Carlo.

Madrid is a big event and it will be good to see how the guys who have not played much in recent weeks get on. And the players will see the familiar sight of red clay, following the experiment with blue clay last year that caused so much controversy.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.