Jo-Wilfried Tsonga tells how players used to 'pray' to avoid Rafael Nadal at RG

Tsonga was one of the best players in the game for many years but he didn't want to face Nadal at the French Open.

by Dzevad Mesic
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga tells how players used to 'pray' to avoid Rafael Nadal at RG
© Getty Images Sport - Julian Finney

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga admits there were times when he "did not want to see" and play Rafael Nadal at the French Open but adds that now he is fully rooting for the Spaniard to be able to compete at Roland Garros and go out on his own terms. 

This past week, Nadal made what was likely his last Madrid Masters appearance and he had an emotional moment with the crowd before exiting the court following his round-of-16 loss. While Nadal had an encouraging campaign in Madrid, he indicated at the start of the tournament that his fitness and condition wasn't where it needed to be for the French Open. 

But Nadal confirmed in Madrid that he would play Rome and then try to go to the French Open. 

Tsonga, who played against Nadal 14 times, finished four times on the winning side and 10 times on the losing side against the Spaniard. Of those 14 meetings, two came on clay and on both occasions Nadal clinched straight-set wins. 

Tsonga may have had certain success against Nadal but when the time would come for the French Open, he would "pray" to avoid the Spaniard. While revealing that, Tsonga told an anecdote about how players used to joke about a scenario in which they would get a chance to play Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier only to go without a won game in the first two sets.

“Everyone wants to see him. I want to see him. For a long time, I didn't want to see him. We want him to go out in the best possible way, on the court fighting like he always did," Tsonga said on Canal +, via We Love Tennis France.

"What he did at Rolandā€Garros, 15 victories… In fact, I don't even want to talk about it because it's so… Honestly, for me, the biggest challenge in tennis was to face Nadal on clay. It's quite funny, I have a little anecdote about that. Before the draw, we all prayed not to draw him. We said to ourselves: 'Can you imagine, you enter the center court and finally, after two sets, you still haven't won a game.'"

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Rafael Nadal
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Rafael Nadal© Getty Images Sport - Matthew Stockman

Nadal left Madrid in very positive spirits

When the Madrid Open started, some of Nadal's comments indicated that he may have decided to compete at Caja Magica only because he didn't want to skip one of his favorite tournaments in front of his home fans. 

In the end, Nadal's body held up pretty well as the former world No. 1 crushed Darwin Blanch 6-1 6-0 in his opener before ousting world No. 11 Alex de Minaur 7-6 (6) 6-3. Then in the Madrid third round, Nadal's body responded well in a very demanding situation as the Spaniard managed to beat Pedro Cachin 6-1 6-7 (5) 6-3 in a three-hour battle.

After surviving the Cachin battle, Nadal returned to the court the following day - and again competed well - but ultimately didn't have the strength to clinch another win as Lehecka beat the Spaniard 7-5 6-4. 

"I was able to play four matches, a couple of tough matches. So very positive, winning three matches, playing four matches at the high level of tennis. I enjoyed a lot playing at home. I leave here with very positive energy," Nadal said after concluding his Madrid run.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal © Getty Images Sport - Julian Finney

Nadal hopes Rome will be good just as Madrid was

After missing the Australian Open, Nadal was hoping to at least be able to play out his full schedule for the clay season. But unfortunately for the Spaniard, he didn't get to play at the Monte Carlo Masters. However, he still managed to compete in Barcelona and Madrid, and now he is also set to play in Rome, where he is a record 10-time champion.

"That's another very special tournament in my career. I dreamed to play all these tournaments that I had success one more time. I missed Monte Carlo unfortunately, that is one of the most special for me, but Rome is one of these ones that I enjoyed a lot playing there," Nadal noted.

Since winning Rome in his tournament debut in 2005, Nadal has made 18 appearances at Foro Italico. In those 18 appearances, Nadal enjoyed massive success, making 12 finals and winning 10 titles. 

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal © Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

Now, Nadal's expectations in Rome may not be the biggest but he still hoping to at least be competitive and say goodbye to Foro Italico in a positive way. 

"I want to play well there (in Rome). I want to be competitive. I want to give myself a chance to play good tennis, and I'm gonna keep working hard to try to make that happen," Nadal said.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Rafael Nadal French Open