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The time has come. Rafael Nadal will play his Roland Garros opener against Egor Gerasimov on Monday as he bids for his 13th Musketeers’ Trophy. The Spaniard, who spent seven months away from the courts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, bowed out from the quarter-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia recently to Diego Schwartzman as he paid the price for a lack of competitive tennis.

Before his opener in the only Grand Slam on clay, Carlos Moyà, Nadal’s coach, analysed their tennis preparations over the past seven months, time during which they came through several challenges.

“We had quite a lot of time, obviously,” the former World No. 1 told ATPTour.com. “It wasn’t easy. It was seven months, and the first two with no tennis whatsoever. Then, starting little by little, gradually, playing one hour. It’s a situation that nobody had ever experienced, and it’s very difficult for an elite sportsman,” he added. “When you have an injury it’s different because there’s a goal. The first months we were kind of waiting to see what happened, not being too demanding in training. There wasn’t much stress in that sense.

“More than rediscovering his game or fitness, the toughest thing was his mind. His mind wasn’t ready,” admitted Moyà. “It was a very difficult situation because of everything that was going on in the world, beyond just not playing matches. We gave full priority to his mind, to playing when he felt comfortable. There were days when we played five minutes, others one hour, others nothing… That was the priority at first, doing the groundwork in order to be ready when we found out the return date.

“When we were clear on the calendar, we started to work harder,” highlighted Moyà. “There was a plan to follow. Of course, Rafa was not ready to play a tournament four months ago, or two months ago. When we had the date for the restart, he was feeling good. Not completely confident, but good.”

For Nadal, the suspension of the ATP Tour came shortly after winning the title in Acapulco. The Spaniard, who had made a good start to the season up to that point, then faced a long period of inactivity which inevitably had its consequences. At 34, and after such a long break, his body complained when it came to getting back on court.

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“He had niggles and aches, but we knew there would be aches,” said Moya. “We had to stop for a few days because of certain niggles, but nothing serious. Things have happened during these six months, but things that are habitual and normal for a professional tennis player. The last month and a half, when he was focused because there was a tournament coming up, we were able to apply ourselves 100 per cent. These things happen. We’ve been adaptable and very open to doing things that he felt like. And I think we’ve achieved that.”

Nadal decided that his return to competition would be at the Foro Itálico, in Rome. So, the 19-time Grand Slam champion set his sights on being ready for the ATP Masters 1000 and stepped up his work rate with that goal in mind.

“He was inconsistent in training, which is normal after so many months without playing,” admitted Moyà. “Andújar and Dimitrov came to the academy before travelling to Rome, and they were the first serious tests for him. It was a logical progression; there were days when he trained very well and the next day he struggled. That inconsistency is normal for someone who hasn’t competed for so long,” he insisted.

“We’ve made very slow progress, very gradual, both in terms of tennis and fitness. We really focused on rest, on doing things differently. He’s ready, but he needs more matches under his belt. A player can get to 80 or 90 per cent in training, but the rest you get from winning. And that’s where we are now. He needs to have the continuity of playing several matches.”

And thus Nadal arrives at Roland Garros, where he will be looking to make history once again by winning a record 13th title. This time, however, will be one of the most difficult for the Spaniard.

“If you look at his career, it is clear that Roland Garros has a very special place on his calendar,” said Moyà. “This year, the margin for error is far narrower. In 2019 he gradually improved after a series of problems he had. He started badly in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, improved in Madrid, in Rome he was back to normal, playing well and in Paris he capped it off by winning the title,” he recalled. “This year that’s not possible. We’re going to focus on things that we can control, while remaining aware that it is a very unusual situation.”



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