(AFP News): Rafael Nadal admitted Friday that he faces his "most difficult ever Roland Garros" as he prepares for an assault on a 13th French Open title.
The 34-year-old needs one more Slam to equal Roger Federer's record of 20, but the great Spaniard's mood was as dark as the Paris skies as he addressed the media two days out from the start of the season's concluding major.
"The conditions here are probably the most difficult conditions for me ever at Roland Garros for so many different facts," said the world number two.
"The ball is completely different. It is super slow, heavy. It's also very cold, slow conditions.
"And of course, the preparation has been less than usual."
Nadal, who won his first French Open 15 years ago and has been beaten just twice in 95 matches at the tournament, arrives in a chilly and damp Paris worryingly under-cooked.
He skipped the defence of his US Open title for fears over the coronavirus and played just three matches on clay in Rome last week where he exited in the quarter-finals.
That was his first tournament since February and he now faces the prospect of playing a French Open pushed back four months from its traditional May-June slot.
The early summer heat and quick conditions, in which he thrives, have been replaced by rain, wind, autumn chill and even a brief deluge of hailstones on Friday.
"The weather is so cold," said Mallorca-based Nadal who was quick to notice that his practice session on Friday took place when the temperature was at a chilly nine degrees (48F).
- New ball concerns -
Nadal said he was not happy that the tournament has switched to a new ball supplier this year.
He even believes it could pose physical problems for the players.
"I think it's not the right ball to play on a clay court," he said.
"I really believe that the organisation needs to take a look at that for the next couple of years, for the health of the players, too, because the ball is super heavy and becomes dangerous for the elbow and for the shoulders."
Nadal is seeded to face world number one Novak Djokovic in the final.
The Serb is one of only two men to have beaten the Spaniard in Paris in 15 years.
However, Nadal still holds a 6-1 advantage over the 2016 champion, and 17-time major winner, at Roland Garros.
Djokovic arrives in Paris with a 31-1 record in 2020 -- his only 'loss' coming via default at the US Open.
He also claimed the Italian Open title at the weekend for a record 36th Masters crown, passing Nadal on the all-time list.
Djokovic hinted that this year could see Nadal dethroned as champion at Roland Garros.
"Yeah, 100% true," admitted Nadal. "I always have been beatable on clay. He beat me a lot of times.
"But at the same time it is true that I had a lot of success on this surface."
Nadal will begin his 2020 French Open campaign on Monday against Egor Gerasimov, the 83rd-ranked Belarusian.
Should he make it as far as the semi-finals, he is seeded to face Austria's Dominic Thiem who he has beaten in the last two Roland Garros finals.
However, Thiem arrives in the French capital buoyed by capturing his maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open.