Rafael Nadal has found "peace of mind" as he bids for a record-extending 14th French Open title, but still has room for improvement, according to his coach Francisco Roig.
Nadal has won two of four clay events in the lead-up to Paris, lifting the trophies in Barcelona and Rome but losing in the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Madrid.
While he will start as a strong favourite to defend his title at the French Open, Roig, who has worked as part of Nadal’s coaching team since 2005, thinks there are areas to work on.
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"For Roland Garros I think it’s important to have more mobility. In terms of his stamina, he’s been very good, coping in matches, but I think we have room for improvement in movement," Roig told ATP.com.
"He could still be a little more dynamic in both forward and lateral movement. And he can also work on his serve, although it has been increasingly better. In fact, against [Novak] Djokovic it was pretty good."
Nadal beat Djokovic in the Italian Open final to secure his second title of the clay swing and complete his French Open preparation in the best possible style.
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Roig thinks the tournament was important for Nadal as he came through a tricky draw on his way to lifting the trophy.
"Having won two difficult matches against [Jannik] Sinner, which is a very tough first round, and against [Denis] Shapovalov [who had two match points] gives you peace of mind on court. In the final, it was very noticeable.
"When Rafa finds that peace of mind, he is calm and can execute without rushing, and I think everything goes much better. Finding that confidence is essential for him and for every other player.”
Roig thinks Djokovic, who has won one of five French Open finals, will be Nadal’s biggest rival in Paris along with two-time runner-up Dominic Thiem.
"Djokovic is probably the opponent that can cause the most problems, along with [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, [Alexander] Zverev and [Dominic] Thiem. However, if Thiem recovers the tempo and confidence he normally shows on clay, I would say I can’t see any difference between him and Djokovic.
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"Since winning the US Open, he has dropped a little, but I’m sure he’ll be playing well enough at Roland Garros and he’ll be a very tough opponent. He’s a very complete player, who demands a lot on every shot. If you leave a ball slightly short, the point is over. Physically, he’s very demanding."
Nadal has won the French Open for the last four years in a row and another victory would see him move one ahead of Roger Federer in the all-time Grand Slam standings.
Roig thinks the 34-year-old will be trying to keep the points short in Paris, even though he is also able to win longer rallies.
"If you look at the stats, you’ll see that Rafa is a player who isn’t too suited to long points. If that happens, it means that the quality of the ball is not so good because he hasn’t been able to finish it off. It’s strange to think that, but the stats show it is true.
"Those long points happen when Rafa isn’t hitting the ball as well as he needs to, but he is able to play another shot. But when he hits it well, in three or four shots he can finish it with a good deep return, going into the net...
"Somehow, it is more rewarding to hit the ball well and then the tactical side comes in. I think that although a long match suits him – because mentally he’s a player who wears you down a lot as he fights for every ball – he also understands that he has to try and put everything into his shots so that he doesn’t have to play points that are too long."
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