Rafael Nadal will seek the 13th Roland Garros title without lifting a trophy on clay this season. Due to the coronavirus, the entire spring clay-swing had to be canceled, with the Spaniard missing the opportunity to compete in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.
Playing his last match in the Acapulco final at the end of February, Nadal went home and stayed on his island of Mallorca for six months, practicing at his Academy on clay. Nadal decided to stay away from New York, not playing Cincinnati and the US Open and making a return this week at Foro Italico in Rome.
With no matches in his arms and legs for over six months, the nine-time Rome champion was hoping to play a couple of rounds and shape his form ahead of Roland Garros. Making an impressive start against the US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta and Dusan Lajovic, Nadal looked like a player to beat, dropping serve only a couple of times and dominating the return to sail into the quarters.
There, Nadal suffered an unexpected 6-2, 7-5 loss to Diego Schwartzman, losing against the Argentine for the first time in ten encounters! Never finding the first serve, Nadal had to dig deep behind the initial shot, suffering five breaks and giving away over half of the points.
On the other hand, he grabbed two breaks in the second set to remain in touch, only to fall before the tie break and suffer the 40th ATP loss on clay. Mixing his game with perfect slices, drop shots, flat and aggressive strokes, Diego fired 31 winners and 17 unforced errors, sticking to his plan and doing everything right to move Nadal away from the comfort zone.
Rafael Nadal would love to win 25 Majors, although he knows how tough is the task.
Schwartzman grabbed five straight games in the opener for a 6-2, with five consecutive breaks from 3-3 in set number two. Diego clinched three of those, failing to seal the deal at 5-4 but delivering another break in game 11 and moving over the top with a hold a few minutes later.
Asked about the upcoming Roland Garros and a chance of catching Roger Federer's 20 Major titles, Nadal said he can't always think about that, sticking to his plan and working on constant improvements, hoping they would be enough to keep him in contention for Major trophies.
"When you ask me about Roger Federer's record, I always say the same. I made my entire career in my way and will keep doing that. I'm not obsessed with those 20 Major titles; I can't always think about Roger or Novak Djokovic and our race for most Majors.
I know journalists put a lot of attention on that. I would love to finish my career on 25 Majors, but that's unlikely to happen. I'm going to fight and create chances; we will see when I finish my career. I want to keep enjoying tennis, that's all.
If I'm playing on a high level, I'm a Major contender. If not, it's impossible to win it," Rafael Nadal said.