Rafael Nadal: Win over Novak Djokovic Sets Higher Expectations at French Open

Jeff ChaseSenior Analyst IIMay 25, 2012

ROME, ITALY - MAY 21:  Rafael Nadal of Spain serves to Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the final during day ten of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2012 Tennis on May 21, 2012 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

If he wasn't already the favorite going in, Rafael Nadal will have a hard time defending an early exit from this year's French Open.

A recent win over Novak Djokovic in the Rome final has allowed Nadal to not only gain back his No. 2 spot in the ATP rankings, but also all the momentum heading into what is regarded as his tournament to lose.

The French is still the only Grand Slam title to not reach Djokovic's mantle, and it looks like he may have to get through Nadal in what would be a potential final matchup.

It isn't like Nadal wouldn't be considered to be one of the favorites coming into this slam, especially with wins in 2010 and 2011, but Djokovic's overall dominance has always given people reason to see him as a favorite any year.

The win over Djokovic is a convincing statement for Nadal going in, but there is no doubt that it raises the already high expectations he had going into this three-peat.

The pressure has never fazed Nadal in the past, as he has been essentially immune to it, but another win at the French will help elevate his status to steal some of the light from under Djokovic's feet.

Nadal has shown his dominance over the World No. 1 on the clay this year, defeating Djokovic in the final at Monte Carlo to make this recent win at Rome two in a row.

These two wins were even bigger for Nadal because Djokovic was on a seven-match winning streak, which included losses in the last three Grand Slam finals.

Nadal can't afford to lose this title, otherwise a potential win by Djokovic will put him back to square one of this current situation, as well as giving the Djoker his first French title.

France is where Nadal dominates, and he must continue to keep the upper-hand on Djokovic on at least this surface. Another title at Rolland Garros will keep him in contention to possibly regain his World No. 1 rank, as well as some serious momentum heading into the Olympics and Wimbledon this summer.

Nadal is the favorite heading into Rolland Garros, but if he fails to win the title, he will lose much of the momentum he has going into some of the biggest events of the year.