Small, Corentin Moutet fell asleep with Rafael Nadal’s tank top as pajamas, as he confessed to journalists, after his victory in the first round of Roland-Garros. Wednesday, May 25, when good children go to bed, the 23-year-old Frenchman had decided not to be lulled by his childhood idol, on the Philippe-Chatrier court. Before rubbing shoulders with the master of the house, thirteen times winner need we remind you, the little left-hander (1.75 m) with a velvet paw claimed not to have the trouillometer at zero: “I don’t fear anything at all . I go there to win, I’m a competitor, that’s my job. »

Sent in three sets (6-3, 6-1, 6-4) by the Spaniard, the gala evening unfortunately came to an end for the Parisian, as for the 15,000 spectators. For the second year, the tournament schedules on the Central night sessions (from June 23 to 1), which give rise to a separate ticket office. After a launch in 2021 marred by the camera then the restrictive gauges imposed by the health situation, this time the public is in the game – and once is not custom, including in the boxes.

To warm it up before the players enter the court, the tournament called on DJs – Etienne de Crécy, Yuksek and Jabberwocky, among others. “We want these evening sessions to be an event, a spectacle. And that it becomes an unmissable Parisian evening during these ten evenings, “said Amélie Mauresmo, the tournament director, during the presentation of the tournament in March. On Wednesday evening, La Fine Equipe did what it could on the turntables, but the Parisian gloom did not allow Le Chatrier, with its folded roof, to catch fire.

Diving into the unknown

Neither does the screenplay. This match was a dive into the unknown for the current 139th in the world, who had won the right to face the Spaniard in the second round by eliminating another winner of the tournament on Monday, the returning Swiss Stan Wawrinka (2015). Moutet had never faced the Spaniard before, or even kicked the ball with him in training. Embarrassed for three months by tendonitis in the wrist, the Frenchman had landed at Porte d’Auteuil with, for all preparation on the crushed brick, two fleeting appearances in Challenger (the second division of the circuit).

For the Spaniard too, this edition is one of those where he presents himself with the least certainty. No title this year on his favorite surface and, for the first time since 2004, no Masters 1000 final on these European lands that he has long made his own (Monte-Carlo, Madrid, Rome).

After a thunderous comeback at the start of the year, a victory at the Australian Open synonymous with a record 21st Grand Slam title and a series of 21 consecutive victories, the enchanted parenthesis came to an abrupt end. A rib injury in Indian Wells at the beginning of March forced him to take it easy until the Madrid tournament, where, for the first time, he surrendered against his compatriot and announced successor, Carlos Alcaraz, in the quarter-finals. . The following week, in Rome, he finished his round of 16 grimacing and limping against Denis Shapovalov.

Soon to be 36 years old (he will celebrate them on June 3), Nadal is once again overtaken by this evil which has been eating away at his left foot since 2005. “I am not injured… I live with an injury [Muller-Weiss syndrome ], he corrected in front of the media after his defeat against the Canadian. There’s nothing new. There are a lot of days when I can’t train normally. It is a pain that comes and goes. Sometimes stronger, sometimes less. »

The former world number one has learned to manage this pain which torments him a little more every day, but does not seem very far from the breaking point. Because it ruins his daily life far beyond the tennis courts. “There will come a time when my head will say stop, because the pain takes away the pleasure. Not just for tennis, in life. »

“I stop making predictions about Nadal”

On Monday, all eyes were glued to his duck blue shoes for his entry into the running against Australian Jordan Thompson. The movements and the score of the Mallorcan (6-2, 6-2, 6-2) to sign his 106th victory at Roland-Garros – a record in a Grand Slam lift so far held by Roger Federer (105 at Wimbledon) – encouraged optimism.

On Wednesday, under the eyes of his uncle Toni, adviser to Canadian Félix Auger Aliassime, the Spaniard was still far from settled. But he has such a margin over most of his opponents that a Nadal even at 75% of his means remains too dangerous a player.

The new director of the Parisian Grand Slam, Amélie Mauresmo, does not dismiss the Spaniard from the list of contenders for the Musketeers Cup: “I remember 2020. The playing conditions were supposed to disrupt it, with the fall and rain, heavy clay, (…) however, he did not lose a set. I stop making predictions about Nadal, she said, when asked on the sidelines of the draw on the favorites of the men’s draw of this 2022 edition. When he is here, most of the time, things go very well for him . »

“The pain is still there. The question is not to know if it will disappear, but if it is too strong or not, if it allows me to play with real chances of winning or not, said the person concerned on the eve of his entry into the running. And if I didn’t believe it, I probably wouldn’t be here. » Sincere conviction or over-optimism? The rest of the tournament will tell.