Novak Djokovic will be motivated to prove he can beat Rafael Nadal on clay as he seeks to dethrone the Spaniard in the French Open, according to former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Nadal heads to Roland Garros seeking to extend his own record and win a 12th title on the red dirt in Paris.

Djokovic is one of only three plays to interrupt his reign at the tournament, doing so in 2016 by beating Andy Murray in the final, and will hold all four slams for the second time in his career if he regains the Coupe de Mousquetaires.

However, the Serbian lost each of his two French Open finals against Nadal in 2012 and 2014 and has won only seven of his 24 matches on clay during their long-standing rivalry, losing to the Spaniard in the final in Rome last weekend.

And Ferrero, a two-time finalist at Roland Garros, where he triumphed in 2003, believes Djokovic's bad record against Nadal on the surface will further fuel his desire to claim the title again.

Ferrero told Omnisport: "I think when the matches are up to five sets, Rafa is the main candidate if he is at 100 per cent. You need to constantly be at your highest level over a long time in order to beat Rafa on clay; over two, two and a half hours. 

"Rafa is aware of that and is able to take advantage of it. There are a few players who can do it, but there are some who need to have more confidence.

"Many players, when they play Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros, they arrive on the court a bit demotivated. And when things go a bit wrong, they know they're going to lose. 

"I think [Dominic] Thiem has more experience this year after playing the final last year and winning the Barcelona Open this season. You also have to put Djokovic on that list, and obviously the magician and undeniably the biggest talent, Roger [Federer].

"If he reaches full fitness, I am sure he will have a chance.

"[Djokovic] is very motivated. His goal is winning grand slams right now. He has already played an outstanding tournament at the Australian Open, especially remarkable was the amazing final he played [against Nadal]. 

"He will be at 100 per cent during Roland Garros, very motivated and trying to beat Rafa at a grand slam on clay. He's already had some chances, taking Rafa to the limit, at five sets.

"I'm sure he wants to prove he's not just able to beat Rafa on grass or a hard surface, but also on clay, he can beat him."

The world of tennis will descend upon Paris this weekend for the start of the French Open.

Novak Djokovic has an opportunity to become just the second man to hold all four major titles on two separate occasions at Roland Garros, but Rafael Nadal is always a leading contender for success on clay.

There is no clear-cut favourite in the women's draw, though Naomi Osaka can win a third straight grand slam and consequently match a feat only previous achieved by seven women in the Open Era.

Ahead of the tournament, three Omnisport writers put their necks on the line and share their picks for glory.

 

JON FISHER

My women's tip: Simona Halep

Halep will return to Paris seeking to become just the sixth woman to retain her crown at Roland Garros in the Open Era. The Romanian claimed her maiden grand slam title 12 months ago after beating Sloane Stephens in a three-set final and comes back as favourite despite a mixed start to 2019. She reached the final of the Madrid Open – losing to Kiki Bertens – but made a second-round exit a few days later in Rome. Halep has proved she has the game and the temperament to win on the biggest stage, though, and, in what appears a wide-open event, can be backed to emerge victorious once again.

My men's tip: Novak Djokovic

Nadal's inconsistent clay-court performances in 2019 have given renewed hope to a pack forever in the slipstream of the relentless Spaniard. Nadal did edge out Djokovic in the Rome final, but the Serbian is unquestionably the most likely to capitalise should the draw open up. Djokovic's sole triumph at Roland Garros came in 2016 but the four-time finalist is in good form – a runner-up finish at the Foro Italico coming after victory in the Madrid Open.

Ones to watch: Belinda Bencic and Fabio Fognini

Bencic has re-emerged as a major player on the WTA Tour after a rankings slump caused by injury and a dramatic loss of form. The Swiss does not fear reputations, evidenced by her Rogers Cup success which saw her beat four top-10 players as a prodigiously talented 18-year-old in 2015. Having regained her mojo, Bencic beat world number one Naomi Osaka en route to the semi-finals of the Madrid Open in May. Now 15th in the world, she could go deep if the favourites falter.

Bencic's reputation as a dangerous floater on the women's side is matched on the men's by Fognini. The enigmatic Italian holds most matches on his racket depending on his mood. A woeful defeat to 101-ranked Jiri Vesely in his clay-court season opener in Marrakech in April was followed just a week later by victory at the Monte Carlo Masters – a run that saw him beat Nadal in the semis. Whether he can wake up on the right side of the bed every day for a fortnight in Paris remains to be seen, but he has the game to challenge the world's best.

PETER THOMPSON

My women's tip: Kiki Bertens

Bertens made great strides last season and has gone from strength to strength this year. The 27-year-old from the Netherlands moved up to a career-high fourth in the rankings after beating French Open champion Halep in the final of the Madrid Open this month. Bertens also demonstrated her clay-court pedigree with runs to the last four in Stuttgart and Rome. She reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros three years ago and is much improved since then, packing a punch with her potent forehand and developing her all-round game to become a serious grand slam contender.

My men's tip: Rafael Nadal

Nadal has not been as dominant as usual on clay this season, but normal service was resumed when he claimed a first title of the year in Rome. The 'King of Clay' struck a big psychological blow by defeating Djokovic at the Foro Italico to be crowned champion in the Eternal City for the ninth time. Court Philippe-Chatrier was knocked down after the legendary Spaniard lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an 11th time last year and, fitness permitting, the world number two will take some stopping as he aims to demolish his rivals yet again at Roland Garros.

Ones to watch: Sloane Stephens and Stefanos Tsitsipas

Stephens looked set to inflict more heartbreak on Halep last year before the Romanian came storming back to end her wait for an elusive major title. The 2017 US Open champion reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals in her first two clay-court tournaments of the season and is more than capable of banishing the memories of her defeat in the final 12 months ago.

Greek sensation Tsitsipas surged to a career-high sixth in the rankings after he was beaten by Nadal in the semi-finals in Rome following a loss to Djokovic in the final in Madrid. The fearless 20-year-old produced his best showing at a major when he reached the last four of the Australian Open in January and can ruffle more feathers on the red stuff in the French capital.

 

TOM WEBBER

My women's tip: Karolina Pliskova

Despite starting the season with glory in Brisbane, Pliskova's season has been blighted by illness since she lost the Miami Open final to Ashleigh Barty in March. After disappointing displays in Stuttgart and Madrid, Pliskova became just the third player to win multiple WTA Tour titles this year with success at the Internazionali d'Italia. The Czech - a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2017 - may not have had to beat a single seed in Rome, but she is the form player heading to Paris and, with a strong record on clay in recent years, has a great opportunity to break her major duck.

My men's tip: Rafael Nadal

Since Nadal lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the first time in 2005, he has only failed to triumph at Roland Garros on three occasions. No man has dominated a single tournament in the Open Era, let alone a major, in the manner of Nadal at the French Open. Although his performances on clay this season have not been as impressive as in past years and he considers Djokovic to be the favourite for success in Paris, the world number two looks in decent shape to claim an unprecedented 12th title after his victory over the Serbian in Rome.

Ones to watch: Serena Williams and Dominic Thiem

It is a rare thing for Williams to head to a major as an outsider for success, but that is the case at the French Open. Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 grand slam triumphs continues to hang over her but the 37-year-old has made two major finals since her return from giving birth and the complications that followed in September 2017. A troublesome knee caused her to pull out of a second-round match against sister Venus in Rome, but she should not be overlooked as a contender for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

Thiem has consistently proven a strong competitor on clay – all but four of his titles on the ATP Tour have been claimed on the surface. He scored a big win over Nadal en route to the trophy at the Barcelona Open in April and, although he fell to Fernando Verdasco in the second round in Rome, he has reached at least the semi-finals at Roland Garros in each of the past three years. The world number four will be keen to improve on his final defeat to Nadal last year and bring about his major breakthrough.

Two-time Geneva Open champion Stan Wawrinka was upset in the last 16 on Wednesday, while 2018 winner Marton Fucsovics also came unstuck.

Swiss star Wawrinka won in both 2016 and 2017 before losing to eventual champion Fucsovics in the quarter-finals last time out.

But the duo suffered an earlier exit this year as second seed Wawrinka was stunned by Damir Dzumhur and Fucsovics, seeded fourth, fell well short against Federico Delbonis.

Wawrinka won the opening set against Dzumhur before going down 3-6 6-3 6-4, with the Bosnian now set to face Radu Albot.

Elsewhere in the draw, third seed Cristian Garin lost in three sets to Taro Daniel.

The favourites fared much better in Lyon, where Nikoloz Basilashvili, Roberto Bautista Agut and Denis Shapovalov all advanced.

Although Richard Gasquet retired, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Benoit Paire at least ensured there was some French representation in the last eight.

Tsonga was taken the distance in a 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 win over Steven Diez, while Paire enjoyed a much more straightforward 6-4 6-3 triumph over Pablo Cuevas.

Alexander Zverev cruised into the quarter-finals of the Geneva Open with a 6-2 6-1 win over Ernests Gulbis, while there was a first-round exit for Grigor Dimitrov.

Dimitrov, who was ranked number four in the world 12 months ago but has now sunk to 47, accepted a wildcard to appear in qualifying for the first time in a tournament since the 2012 Paris Masters in order to reach the main draw.

But that was as far as the Bulgarian got, as Federico Delbonis recovered to earn a 1-6 6-4 6-2 win and move into the last 16.

There were no such problems for top seed Zverev in his match, with Gulbis offering little resistance and going down to defeat in one hour and six minutes.

Gulbis was not without his chances, but Zverev saved eight of the Latvian's nine break-point opportunities and took five of his own to end a two-match losing streak.

"It was a good win, obviously [Gulbis] is someone that plays very aggressive and hits the ball very hard at times," Zverev said.

"In the first few games I thought it was going to be a very difficult match and then I picked up my level a little bit."

Zverev will face Hugo Dellien in the last eight after the Bolivian defeated Janko Tipsarevic in Tuesday's final match.

Other round-of-32 clashes saw Joao Sousa edge a tight encounter against Leonardo Mayer, Albert Ramos-Vinolas get the better of sixth seed Adrian Mannarino and Damir Dzumhur beat Feliciano Lopez.

In the Lyon Open, number four seed Felix Auger-Aliassime defeated John Millman in straight sets, while Steve Johnson knocked out home favourite Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

There was some cause for celebration for the French fans, though, as Benoit Paire and Corentin Moutet booked places in the last 16, as did Uruguayan veteran Pablo Cuevas.

Seeds Matthew Ebden and Andreas Seppi both suffered surprise defeats at the Geneva Open on Monday.

Nicolas Jarry upset Australian Ebden 6-2 7-6 (7-4), while Seppi suffered a similar fate at the hands of Hugo Dellien, who won 6-1 3-6 6-4.

Their exits have opened up a potentially easier route to the latter stages for Grigor Dimitrov, whose match with Federico Delbonis was postponed due to rain.

Dimitrov accepted a wild card into qualifying and has looked sharp ahead of the French Open, with top seed and world number five Alexander Zverev also in action on Tuesday, against Ernests Gulbis.

Ugo Humbert was a standout performer at the Lyon Open, ending a three-match losing streak as he beat Cameron Norrie 6-1 6-3, hitting eight aces and converting six of nine break points.

There were no surprises elsewhere, though sixth seed Richard Gasquet had to come from behind to beat qualifier Maxime Janvier 6-7(5-7) 6-2 7-6 (7-2).

Meanwhile, Tristan Lamasine beat Jannik Sinner to set up a second-round clash with top seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Rafael Nadal has now occupied a place in the world's top 10 for 735 consecutive weeks, passing Roger Federer for the second-longest streak in the history of the ATP rankings.

Nadal made a statement on Sunday ahead of defending his French Open title in Paris, despatching Novak Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 in the Internazionali d'Italia final.

The victory ended his wait for a first tournament win in 2019, the Spaniard having underwhelmed on clay so far this year, losing semi-finals in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

But the 11-time Roland Garros champion made light work of the current world number one in Rome, even though he was taken to three sets.

There was further good news on Monday for Nadal, who has been ensconced inside the top 10 since April 25, 2005.

He has overtaken Federer on the all-time list when it comes to appearances in consecutive weeks, with only Jimmy Connors (789) left ahead of him on the all-time list.

Novak Djokovic believes Rafael Nadal is the clear favourite to win yet another French Open.

Nadal finally claimed his first title of the year on Sunday, crushing Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 in the Internazionali d'Italia final.

The Spaniard is a record 11-time champion at Roland Garros and Djokovic feels Nadal will be hard to stop as he bids for three in a row in Paris.

"Nadal [is the] number one favourite, without a doubt," the Serbian told a news conference.

"And then everyone else."

Nadal secured his ninth Rome crown with an impressive performance against Djokovic, who was blown away early.

Djokovic was happy to push Nadal to a third set as he lamented some fatigue after his run to the final.

"I'm really glad I managed to get into the third set considering in the first set I was blown away from the court and obviously third set wasn't much different from the first," he said.

"But actually the first three or four games in the third set were quite close and maybe that's where I had a slight chance to build on the momentum that I had from winning the second set.

"I was running out of fuel a little bit, just kind of missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side, and he used it.

"He used it very well, he's been playing some terrific tennis throughout the entire week and he was just too strong."

The French Open begins on Sunday.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga began his bid for a second Lyon Open title with a gutsy win over fifth seed Dusan Lajovic.

The 2017 champion has played his way back into the world's top 100 after an injury-hit 2018 saw him drop as low as 259 in the rankings.

In a tricky opener in France, Tsonga came through 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 in a match lasting one hour and 44 minutes.

A break apiece in the first set meant a tie-break was required, which Tsonga dominated, and a solitary dropped service game from Lajovic in the second proved costly.

Sunday's other match at the tournament saw John Millman hammer Pablo Andujar 6-1 6-3.

At the Geneva Open, Ernests Gulbis and Juan Ignacio Londero defeated Yoshihito Nishioka and 2017 runner-up Mischa Zverev respectively in straight sets to progress.

Rafael Nadal made a major statement ahead of his French Open defence, thumping world number one Novak Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 in the Internazionali d'Italia final to claim his ninth title in Rome.

The winner of an astonishing 11 men's singles crowns at Roland Garros, which will host the year's second grand slam from next Sunday, Nadal had endured an unusually underwhelming clay-court season prior to facing Djokovic, losing semi-finals in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

Djokovic, a four-time champion in Rome, has won each of the last three slams and dominated Nadal in the Australian Open final in January.

However, the boot was on the other foot on this occasion as the Spaniard registered the first bagel in 54 meetings between the illustrious pair and secured his first trophy of 2019 with a degree of comfort, despite a gutsy fightback from his rival.

Nadal now has 34 Masters 1000 titles to Djokovic's 33, having edged clear once again in their long-running battle for supremacy.

While the former cruised into the final, Djokovic had been forced to come through a series of demanding contests and that appeared to be a factor as he was clinically dismantled in a one-sided opening set.

The top seed appeared sluggish in his movement and had no answer to a series of sensational forehands from the other side of the net, most notably a winner down the line in the fifth game.

Although Djokovic raised his level after suffering the indignity of a bagel, Nadal still dictated play for the most part and looked likely to triumph in straight sets, only to then be surprisingly broken for only the second time in the tournament when he made back-to-back errors serving at 4-5.

Nadal quickly regained control with a break at the start of the decider, prompting a frustrated Djokovic to smash his racquet.

And there was to be no way back for the Serbian, who was guilty of a succession of poor drop shots throughout the match as he suffered a first defeat to a top-10 opponent this year.

Top seed and four-time champion Novak Djokovic survived a scare from Diego Schwartzman to set up an Internazionali d'Italia final against Rafael Nadal in Rome.

Having overcome Juan Martin del Potro in a gripping quarter-final, Djokovic had to get through another epic encounter in the last four of the ATP Masters 1000 event – the world number one prevailing 6-3 6-7 (2-7) 6-3 on Saturday.

After cruising in the first set, 15-time grand slam champion Djokovic – who is aiming for his fifth Rome title and third ATP triumph of 2019 – was pegged back in the second, Schwartzman coming out on top in a tie-breaker.

But Schwartzman's resistance was finally ended when Djokovic's quality came to the fore in the final set, and world number two Nadal – who the Serbian beat in January's Australian Open final – awaits on Sunday.

With eight-time winner Nadal breezing past Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 6-4 to claim the first final spot, Djokovic started strongly, despatching some typically composed shots to wrap up the first set, capping it off with a wonderful drop-shot in the final game following a terrific rally.

Schwartzman – buoyed by his 6-4 6-2 victory over Kei Nishikori in the last eight – responded well, though, breaking serve twice to force, and subsequently win, the tie-break.

However, that second-set resilience took too much out of Schwartzman's sails, and Djokovic broke serve when the Argentinian sent a short hit into the net following a brilliant cross-court effort from the Serb.

And after an awkward moment when a stray shot hit a ball boy, Djokovic – through to back-to-back Masters finals – made sure to make no further mistakes, breaking serve once more before forcing another error from his opponent to secure a hard-fought victory.

Rafael Nadal got revenge for last week's loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas, comprehensively defeating the Greek 6-3 6-4 to reach the Internazionali d'Italia final.

The Spaniard had been beaten in four consecutive semi-finals, including by Tsitsipas at the Madrid Open, but recorded an emphatic victory in one hour and 43 minutes on Saturday to move one match away from winning his first ATP Tour title in 2019.

Tsitsipas, who showed his frustration as he argued a line call with the umpire in the second set, had 27 unforced errors to just 17 winners and struggled to find a foothold in the match after making a poor start, with Nadal throwing in some spectacular shots at key moments.

Nadal, an eight-time champion at this tournament in Rome, will face either Novak Djokovic or Diego Schwartzman in Sunday's final, one week from the start of his attempt to win a record 12th French Open crown at Roland Garros.

The early games proved crucial in the first set, with Nadal taking a tightly contested opener, breaking with his first opportunity with a beautiful forehand down the line, before saving two break points to go 3-0 up.

There were no chances for either player from then on, and the world number two dug in while serving for the set, recovering from 0-30 down and needing only one set point to move in front thanks to an unreturned serve.

Nadal missed his first two chances to move ahead in game three of the second set, but made no mistake when another Tsitsipas error gave him a third break chance, with the Greek finding the net in reply to a thumping forehand.

Tsitsipas did at least hold three times from there to force Nadal to serve the match out, but the 32-year-old did exactly that without dropping a point as he converted the first of his three match points when his opponent sent a return long, reaching his 50th Masters 1000 final.

World number one Novak Djokovic "never lost faith" after saving two match points in his epic quarter-final victory over Juan Martin del Potro at the Internazionali d'Italia.

Djokovic was pushed to the limit by Del Potro but the 15-time grand slam champion survived an almighty scare to prevail 4-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 in Rome on Friday.

After erasing a 5-2 deficit, Del Potro had a pair of chances to book a semi-final berth at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament, however, Djokovic fended off both in the second-set tie-break.

"I never lost faith I could come back to the match. One break of serve, mini break in the tie-break when he was 6-4, more or less open forehand that he was making the entire match, that's all it took for me to come back," Djokovic said. 

"[He] missed a couple crucial points in the tie-break. Also break point third set, quite easy forehand. That's what happens. That's sport. I'm just really pleased to overcome."

Top seed and four-time Rome champion Djokovic will face Argentina's Diego Schwartzman for a spot in back-to-back Masters finals, having reigned supreme at the Madrid Open.

"I lost probably the positioning of the court over him. Towards the end of the first, he just started hitting the ball really well from both corners, also backhand side, backhand down the line. He was playing really well, gave me a lot of trouble," Djokovic said.

Novak Djokovic survived two match points to triumph in a three-set epic against Juan Martin del Potro and book his spot in the semi-finals of the ATP Internazionali d'Italia.

Four-time champion Djokovic was staring down the barrel in Rome when Del Potro had two chances for victory in a second-set tie-break on Friday.

But the world number one, who had won his previous two encounters with Del Potro in Rome in straight sets, dug deep to stave off those threats and went on to record a 4-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 triumph in the Italian capital.

Earlier in the day, defending champion Rafael Nadal outclassed Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco 6-4 6-0 to set up a rematch with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who benefitted from Roger Federer's withdrawal.


DJOKOVIC DENIES DOGGED DEL POTRO

The saying goes 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do' and Djokovic and Del Potro put on a show worthy of any amphitheatre.

Djokovic appeared to have Del Potro's number early doors but three break-point chances went begging and the Argentinian clinically broke for a 4-3 lead.

After saving three more break points to see out the opener, Del Potro broke back in the second set to force a breaker that he wrested control of when Djokovic went long when trailing 5-4.

But two match points went due to a wild forehand and an exquisite Djokovic drop shot, and the Serbian rebounded to level the match. 

A third set of the highest quality included a warm clap of the hands at the net after a stunning Del Potro drop-shot, but Djokovic made the crucial break in game five.

Djokovic will now face Diego Schwartzman in the semi-finals after the latter outclassed sixth seed Kei Nishikori 6-4 6-2.


REVENGE IN MIND FOR RAFA?

It was a sluggish start for Nadal, who survived a break-point chance that would have put Verdasco 3-0 ahead early in the first set.

But from there it was textbook stuff as the former world number one won 12 of the final 14 games, with Nadal having now earned a bagel in three straight matches.

Next up is Tsitsipas, a familiar foe for Nadal. The Greek triumphed just a week ago when the two met in the semi-final in Madrid.

Federer's retirement due to a right-leg injury means Tsitsipas should be fresh for a renewed challenge.

John Isner will miss the French Open after failing to recover from a foot injury in time for Roland Garros.

The American has opted to sit out in Paris as he continues to be plagued by an issue incurred during the Miami Open final.

Isner posted on Twitter to say that a reported stress fracture "has not fully healed and there's just no way I could possibly compete on the clay in Paris."

He added: "While missing Grand Slams is not something I'm accustomed to, I've been fortunate to have such a clean bill of health my whole career. 

"This is a bump in the road and I'm certain I will fully recover. Hope to see everyone at Wimbledon!"

The 34-year-old has not played since falling 6-1 6-4 to Roger Federer in Miami, skipping Masters 1000 events on clay in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome. 

Isner has played in 37 of the previous 38 majors dating back to the 2009 US Open, sitting out only at the 2013 Australian Open due to a nagging knee injury.

Rafael Nadal was at his imperious best on clay as he dispatched Fernando Verdasco 6-4 6-0 to book an Internazionali d'Italia semi-final showdown with Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Nine days out from the French Open beginning, Nadal delivered an ominous warning to his rivals at Roland Garros by winning 12 of the final 14 games against Verdasco in Rome.

Verdasco had a break-point chance to move 3-0 up early on but Nadal soon found his rhythm and was ruthless in the second set, recording his third bagel of the week.

Nadal will hope to reach his 11th final in the Italian capital and the eight-time champion now faces Tsitsipas, who beat the Spaniard in the semi-finals at the Madrid Open last week, after the Greek was handed a walkover following Roger Federer's injury-enforced withdrawal.

In a match between two players who played twice on Thursday due to Wednesday's washout, Nadal started sluggishly and Verdasco's aggressive style paid dividends as he moved 2-0 ahead.

Nadal broke back in the sixth game yet needed some big serving at 0-40 down to prevent Verdasco moving one away from clinching the opener.

However, Verdasco pulled a forehand wide to give Nadal the lead and the world number two showed no mercy in the next, wrapping up the set in 37 minutes, with his opponent winning only three points in his three service games.

It meant Nadal reached a fourth straight semi-final, though he has lost at the last-four stage in each of his previous three clay-court tournaments.

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