ANDY MURRAY believes Rafael Nadal’s stuttering form makes Novak Djokovic favourite to win the French Open but insists it would be “stupid” to write off the Spaniard.
Nadal has lost only once in 10 years at Roland Garros but injuries, illness and a string of disappointing results have seen the nine-time champion slip to seventh in the world rankings.
Djokovic, in contrast, has already picked up five tournament victories in 2015 and Murray, who could meet Djokovic or Nadal in the semi-finals, believes the Serbian is now the man to beat in Paris.
“(Nadal’s form) changes things. Novak for me goes into the tournament as the favourite now,” said Murray, who will face a qualifier in the first round.
“But on that court Rafa’s record is ridiculous.
“It’s completely possible that he gets out there and feels great, especially if he gets himself into the tournament and wins his first few matches.
“He’s going to feel better and better. He obviously loves the conditions here, although the courts this week have been extremely slow.
“If it gets warmer and starts to speed up, obviously he loves the conditions here.
“It would be stupid to write him off or suggest that he can’t win the event – it’s definitely possible that he could do that.”
A lot of attention at yesterday’s draw centred on where Nadal, seeded sixth, would land and his placing in the top quarter sets up a potential mouth-watering clash with Djokovic in the last eight.
Murray is in the same half, meaning he could play the victor in the semi-finals but he may first have to overcome Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, American John Isner and Spanish clay-court specialist David Ferrer.
“I would love to be in that position to have made the semis – for me that’s a great result at this event,” Murray said.
“It could work both ways. If Nadal and Djokovic play a five-hour marathon, then whoever plays against them in the semis is happy about that.
“But if either one of them goes on the court and crushes the other one, they can be pretty confident going into the semi-finals as well.
“I hope I’m there. There are certainly no guarantees that will be the case, I will have to play really, really well to get there.”
Murray matched his best performance at Roland Garros last year, reaching the semi-final before losing to Nadal in straight sets.
The Scot has also struggled against Djokovic in recent meetings, having lost to the world No 1 in each of their last seven matches, including the Australian Open final in January.
“I’m in the same half of the draw as Rafa and Novak, so that’s hard,” Murray added.
“Ferrer is someone I have never beaten on clay before, that’s tough, and then Isner is the other seed, and Kyrgios, who obviously has had some huge wins in slams.
“It’s certainly not an easy draw, that’s for sure. But many times I have played in slams where draws appeared extremely difficult, and after a couple of losses all of a sudden everyone tells me it’s an easy draw.
“You just have to play the matches in front of you and see what happens.”
British No 2 Aljaz Bedene drew Austria’s promising 21-year-old Dominic Thiem while in the women’s draw, Heather Watson plays French wildcard Mathilde Johansson, ranked 224th in the world.If Watson wins, she will come up against the winner of American duo Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams.
It represents a tough draw for all three British players and particularly Murray, who suffered a straight-sets defeat to Nadal in the French Open semi-finals last year and lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open final in January.
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios is the first seed Murray could face in round three before potential clashes with American John Isner in the last 16, and Spain’s David Ferrer in the quarter-finals.
Nadal, who has struggled for form in the lead-up to his favourite tournament, will play Frenchman Quentin Halys in the first round while Djokovic faces Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen.
Roger Federer opens up against a qualifier and, in what will be seen as a kind draw for the number two seed, he could meet either the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych or Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals.
In the women’s draw, top seed Serena Williams plays a qualifier in the first round and the American could meet her sister Venus in the last 16 before a potential semi-final against Canada’s world No 6 Eugenie Bouchard.
Champion Maria Sharapova will begin her defence against Kaia Kanepi and is in the same half of the draw as Simona Halep.
Play at the second grand slam of the year begins in Paris tomorrow.