Rafael Nadal: 'I respect every rival, it will not be easy to beat Alexei Popyrin'

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Rafael Nadal: 'I respect every rival, it will not be easy to beat Alexei Popyrin'

The 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal will kick off his 17th Parisian campaign against Alexei Popyrin, facing the young Aussie for the second time in a couple of weeks. Nadal had some ups and downs on clay this spring, giving his best to find the form after staying away from the court for almost two months and securing two ATP titles ahead of the season's second Major.

Nadal lost to Andrey Rublev in the Monte Carlo quarter-final before reaching the Barcelona Open final. After a titanic battle with another youngster Stefanos Tsitsipas, Rafa prevailed after saving a match point in almost three hours and 40 minutes, marking it the longest best-of-three ATP final in the previous three decades!

In Madrid, Alexander Zverev halted Rafa in the quarters, overpowering the Spaniard in every segment after a slow start and forcing Rafa to chase a deep run in Rome, his last pre-Roland Garros event.

Rafael Nadal is ready for the opening-round challenge at Roland Garros.

The Spaniard had to dig deep at one of his favorite events, fending off two match points versus Denis Shapovalov in the third round and beating Alexander Zverev, Reilly Opelka and Novak Djokovic to claim the tenth Foro Italico crown and gain momentum ahead of Paris.

Nadal claimed the title on debut in Paris in 2005 and established himself as the most dominant player at a single Major in tennis history, winning 100 out of 102 matches and lifting 13 trophies. The Spaniard is the top favorite in Paris again, ahead of Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, hoping to extend his brilliant run and write history books with the 21st Major crown.

In Madrid, Nadal beat Popyrin 6-3, 6-3 after playing better tennis in the crucial moments, aware of his opponent's powerful strokes and aggressive approach. Rafa stated that he respects Alexei, like every other rival throughout his career, saying he needs to play well to score a win and make a good start.

"Alexei is young; he has the power and big shots. As always, I need to be ready for it. I need to keep practicing over the next couple of days and try to be in the best shape possible. I know every round is tough; I always respect every opponent.

I have appreciated everyone since the beginning of my career. And Popyrin is a dangerous one, so I need to play well, and I'm looking forward to trying to make that happen," Rafael Nadal said.