Nadal hits the ground running

13-time Grand Slam champion makes his Chatrier 2022 practice debut as Halep and Swiatek share training session

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2022, practice© Philippe Montigny/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Back on the very court where they first joined the Grand Slam roll of honour, the line-up couldn’t be more spectacular.

Current world No.1 Iga Swiatek and 2018 winner Simona Halep matched the weather with their own sizzling shot-making, before a certain 13-time champion returned to his kingdom.

Late afternoon, Rafael Nadal was so eager for his opening practice in preparation for Roland-Garros 2022, that the 35-year-old scuttled onto court well before his name was announced to over 4,000 vehemently excited fans.

“Rafa, Rafa, Rafa” was the booming chant, as the Spaniard’s legion of fans warmly welcomed him onto court. The current world No.5 replied with some fancy football flicks before getting down to business.

Bludgeoning the groundstrokes with countryman Jaume Munar across the net, Nadal incrementally ramped up the force and intensity of his shots. The men’s record 21-time major winner was dictating play, every winner greeted with a raucous “vamos” or ripple of applause.

During a break in play, Nadal’s exemplary manners were on show when the Mallorcan wouldn’t perform his customary baseline foot sweep until the court team had finished their finessing at the change of ends.

A trademark lassoed forehand return, on the stretch out wide, was lasered down the line, prompting a theatrical “ooooh” from the captivated crowds.

Practice set complete and a standing ovation greeted the Spanish duo, before a team picture officially marked the occasion.

Considering how his Rome campaign ended with a painful foot injury flare-up, Wednesday seems to be a positive step forward for the Spaniard.

These practice sessions really have been a massive treat for the lucky fans on the grounds.  

Halep began her hit being moved side to side by new coach Patrick Mouratoglou, aiming to dip the ball inside marked deep sections.

The world No.19 then attempted to knock down pyramids of four balls as a service target. One tumbled, cue a rendition of ‘Si-mo-na’ ringing out around the stands.

Swiatek, arriving in Paris in red-hot form off the back of five successive titles, joined in and the major champions conjured up some major tennis. 

The hitting was crisp and punchy from both as 1978 champion Virginia Ruzici and new Roland-Garros tournament director Amelie Mauresmo made sure they observed these exemplary athletes from up close.

With the world-class striking ending, Swiatek and Halep made sure their fans went home happy, posing for a multitude of selfies and signing all sorts of memorabilia.

Drawing an early crowd to Court Philippe-Chatrier was the in-form Ons Jabeur.

The Tunisian trailblazer, who has roared into major contention in Paris with three finals in four clay events, was crushing groundstrokes.

A cheeky drop shot to curtail a bruising rally gave the spectators a glimpse of the artistry the world No.6 displayed to lift the Madrid WTA 1000 trophy earlier this month.

Jabeur’s t-shirt had ‘Hi! Smiling is my signature’ printed across the front.

Everyone in the stadium was grinning when a cutting backhand slice rally was halted by the in-form 27-year-old connecting with a front-facing tweener pass.