Some things just go together: peanut butter and jelly, Mariah Carey and Christmas, and, for much of the last two decades, Rafael Nadal and Roland Garros. That perfect match was once again on display as the 13-time champion began his pre-tournament preparation in Paris after an injury-addled spring.

After beginning the year with a miraculous run to the Australian Open title—putting him in GOAT debate lead with 21 major victories—things haven’t gone according to plan. A rib injury incurred at the BNP Paribas Open initially cut his schedule in half, and a flare-up of his chronic foot injury conspired to curtail his Internazionali BNL d’Italia campaign, but his rivals didn’t see much rust in practice.

“All of a sudden his forehand is just 20 miles an hour faster,” marveled Alexander Zverev in his Media Day press conference. “He moves lighter on his feet. There is something about this court that makes him play 30% better, just being on this court.”


Asked about the assessment in his own presser, Nadal raised his inimitable eyebrow.

“30% better player here than in the rest of the places or the rest of the players?” he asked with a laugh before adding of the latter. “Actually, I was for a while, but not anymore, I think!”

Nadal’s quest for his 14th Roland Garros title would likely be his toughest yet: not only would the 35-year-old have to erase any lingering physical doubts, but he would also have to win projected meetings over top seed Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals and either Zverev or Mutua Madrid Open champion Carlos Alcaraz in the semis.

Alcaraz stunned Nadal en route to winning his second ATP Masters 1000 title at the Caja Magica, but Nadal may yet find his own magic on Court Philippe-Chatrier when he needs it most.