Rafael Nadal has been in sensational form on clay and is favourite to win the French Open. Picture: REUTERS
Rafael Nadal has been in sensational form on clay and is favourite to win the French Open. Picture: REUTERS

Fifty years after accepting his second Coupe des Mousquetaires, Australian great Ken Rosewall will bestow the French Open trophy on the men’s singles champion in June and sees only one grateful player ready to claim it — Rafa Nadal.

"Unless anything unforeseen happens to Rafa — his reputation is scaring everybody — so I’m just going to go over there and give him the trophy and come home," the eight-times Grand Slam champion said.

The 83-year-old has been impressed by Nadal’s rampaging clay-court season, which included an eighth Italian Open title at the weekend and the heist of the world No1 ranking from Roger Federer.

Nadal will head to Paris in search of a record-extending 11th title and his 17th Grand Slam win overall, with Federer watching from the sidelines.

The 31-year-old Spaniard’s rivals, young guns and battle-scarred veterans among them, would be playing for second if the champion could stay on two legs, said Rosewall.

"He looks like he’s enjoying his tennis. He’s had a few physical problems and it seems like he’s recovered from that," added the left-hander. "Right now he’s playing as well as he’s ever played. He’s the one to win it."

In the era of Federer, who turns 37 in August, tennis players have been ageing like fine wine. Fans have been spoilt, their cups running over with the long-time rivalry between the Swiss great and Nadal, even as "big four" contemporaries Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have fallen by the wayside.

Rosewall also came from an impressive vintage, and had to beat compatriot Rod Laver, the 11-times slam champion, to win the 1968 French Open, 15 years after his first at Roland Garros.

Toting a wooden racquet on a clay practice court at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, Rosewall was honoured by Tennis Australia in a low-key ceremony on the golden anniversary of the 1968 win, also the first Grand Slam of the professional era.

While eight players have won more slams than Rosewall, the man nicknamed "Muscles" — an ironic reference to his lack of them — collected his haul despite being ineligible to play the four Majors for 11 years after turning professional in 1957.

Upon returning to the slams aged 33, Rosewall won three more titles following his 1968 triumph to go with the four he claimed from 1953-56. He remains the oldest men’s Grand Slam champion after he won the 1972 Australian Open aged 37.

Federer won a record-extending 20th Grand Slam at Melbourne Park in January and a successful title defence there in 2019 would see him eclipse Rosewall’s record.

"Yes, the record could be [in danger]," he said with a tinge of regret. "There’s no doubt that Roger’s going to be in good form. Still, I’d be sorry to lose that title. But if I lose anything to Federer, I’d be quite happy."