It's one thing to beat Rafael Nadal, even on clay, and quite another to do it in Paris, says Juan Martin del Potro.
Unusually for the Spaniard, he has played three clay events this season but hasn't yet won a title. He went down to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo, Dominic Thiem in Barcelona, and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid. In 2018, Nadal won four events on clay, including the French Open, where he has triumphed 11 times and has just two defeats.
Del Potro, though, notes it's easier for players to compete with Nadal in best-of-three events, rather than best-of-five in Nadal's favored conditions.
“I don't think it's weird that Rafa doesn't win a tournament on clay yet. Many players are playing good on clay,” del Potro said this week at Rome. “Rafa can lose, because he's a fantastic player, but also you have other guys playing good tennis at the moment. Could be weird if Rafa doesn't win Paris. But I think to my point of view, he's still a big favorite to win Roland Garros once again.
"What I say all the time -- you can beat Rafa once, but to beat Rafa in Grand Slam, in Paris, is another big challenge for us.”
Del Potro, who won a Grand Slam at the 2009 US Open, took down John Isner and Marin Cilic at the 2018 French Open before he lost against Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. He played his first clay event of the season at Madrid, where he returned from knee injury.
The Argentine does like the recent play of younger players such as Thiem and Tsitsipas, but again says they have to establish themselves at the Grand Slams.
“I also think the young players are coming stronger than we are. They have a big future,” Del Potro said. “They are the present, they have everything to become a better player in the future. What I say, is tough to beat the top guys on the Grand Slam. They are still being the favorites to win the big events. Once they break that line, maybe they going to be in the top spots, for sure.”
The No. 9 del Potro will face David Goffin in his opening round at Rome.