Rafael Nadal arrives at his kingdom, practicing at Court Philippe-Chatrier



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Rafael Nadal arrives at his kingdom, practicing at Court Philippe-Chatrier

The brand-new Court Philippe-Chatrier welcomed the 12-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal on Thursday. The 19-time Major champion got a chance to try the new Wilson balls and hit under the main Roland Garros stadium's closed roof, hoping to lift another crown there on October 11.

Staged four months after its usual place in the calendar, Roland Garros should be a challenge for all the players thanks to cold weather and possible rainy days. The organizers have done their best to draw at least some crowd at the new Court Philippe-Chatrier, following strict health measures in the battle against the coronavirus.

Rafael Nadal is among the title favorites alongside Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic, seeking the elusive 20th Major that would put him on the level terms with Roger Federer for the first time. The nine-time Rome champion couldn't regain the title at Foro Italico last week, suffering the quarter-final loss to Diego Schwartzman and handing the 36th Masters 1000 crown to Novak Djokovic.

Nadal went back to the practice court at his Academy for a couple of days, trying to improve some elements in his game ahead of the third and last Major of the season in Paris. Rafa has been the dominant figure at Roland Garros in the previous 15 years, winning 93 out of 95 matches and failing to lift the trophy only thrice.

The Spaniard has had a solid season so far, reaching the final at the ATP Cup and the Australian Open quarter-final, winning the 85th ATP title in Acapulco before the coronavirus outbreak. After a couple of months without tennis, Nadal started to practice at home in Mallorca, favoring his beloved clay and deciding to skip Cincinnati and the US Open, where he won the title a year ago.

Competing for the first time after 200 days in Rome, Nadal made a perfect return against the US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta and Dusan Lajovic, sailing into the quarters to set the tenth clash with Diego Schwartzman.

Rafael Nadal is seeking the 13th Roland Garros crown in the next couple of weeks.

The Spaniard defeated the Argentine in the previous nine encounters, but that wasn't the case on Saturday, as Schwartzman scored a 6-2, 7-5 victory in two hours and three minutes.

In one of his most impressive performances in a career, Schwartzman neutralized the great rival, hitting 31 winners and 17 unforced errors to leave Rafa far behind. Struggling with humidity and pace, Nadal couldn't find the answer for the rival's aggressive approach, unable to impose his strokes or move Diego from the comfort zone and gain a boost in the exchanges.

Changing his strokes' pace, Schwartzman implemented drop shots, slices, and flat deep groundstrokes to keep the rallies on his racquet, bringing the victory home in style and delivering Nadal's 40th ATP loss on clay.

Diego earned five breaks from 54% of the return points, neutralizing Rafa's initial shot and giving serve away twice to remain on the title course. After a poor performance in the opener, Nadal raised his level in set number two, although it wasn't enough for at least a set, losing steam in the crucial moments for an early loss.

In the previous two Roland Garros finals, Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem, with no chance of that in 2020 as they are set to meet in the semis.