ROME, May 20: Defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal said on Sunday he can�t wait to hit the clay courts of Roland Garros after claiming his first title this season and ninth Italian Open trophy.
Nadal defeated World No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 for a record 34th Masters, leaving his vanquished foe to label the Spaniard as �the number one favourite for Roland Garros�.
�I am going to be there with time enough, as always,� said 32-year-old Nadal, who wants to capture a 12th trophy in Paris.
�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. Looks great. Still open, still not closed. Is a different stadium, but the feeling probably will not be very different.
�This year, I don�t see a big difference. The wind is going to be the same as always. Court is still big.� 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. Important title, now�s the moment to keep going.�
Djokovic � winner at the Madrid Open last week � gave an error-strewn display in his 54th meeting with second-ranked Nadal, having spent six hours on court in his previous two matches.
�For me, the most important thing is to feel myself playing well and feel myself healthy, with the energy that I need,� said Nadal.
�If that happens, experience is that I am going to fight for titles sooner or later.� The 32-year-old had not dropped a set all week before the final taking a 6-0 set from four of his five rivals.
�During the last couple of weeks, every day and every week have been better. 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 gotten past the semifinals in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.
�After Indian Wells, there have been some tough moments for me in terms of recovering again,� he said.
�I didn�t arrive very well prepared for Monte-Carlo. There have been some low moments for me.
�The first round in Barcelona, that was a disaster.�
Nadal had been stunned by Stefanos Tsitsipas, a player 12 years his junior, in the semifinals in Madrid.
But the Spaniard brushed aside the Greek in the semifinals in the Italian capital on Friday.
�Yesterday (Saturday against Tsitsipas) was probably my best match on clay so far this season before today (Sunday), because today I played better than yesterday.�
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 targeting 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, number one 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.� � AFP