French Open 2012: Novak Djokovic's Title Chances Depend on Play of Rafael Nadal

Kevin PacelliCorrespondent IMay 25, 2012

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 25:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia stretches to hit a backhand during a practice session ahead of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 25, 2012 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The highly anticipated French Open Men's Singles draw has officially been released and is open to plenty of speculation and analysis from the tennis world. One of the biggest stories, of course, is World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who can only improve upon last year's performance by taking the coveted Grand Slam in 2012.

Going into the year's second Slam, the Djoker is looking very good.

With the exception of his quarterfinal departure from Madrid's controversial blue clay, he has had a solid clay season so far, reaching finals in Monte Carlo and Rome. The problem in both of those finals, though, was the man on the other side of the net.

Rafa Nadal, who may very well be the greatest clay-court player the game has ever seen, has taken command of their rivalry with straight-set wins in both of those matches. Going into Roland Garros, the Spaniard is confident knowing that Djokovic will not beat him in the final (if they should meet there), as long as Nadal stays at the top of his game.

So what does that mean for Djokovic? Basically, his fate as a potential 2012 French Open champion strongly depends on Nadal's path to the final. 

It is not likely that Nadal will lose prior to the semifinals, where he will probably meet another Big Four member in fourth-seeded Andy Murray. However, that doesn't mean other players cannot put up a solid fight and wear down his form a bit before he reaches that point.

The first real competition for Nadal will probably come in the fourth round in the form of either Juan Monaco or Milos Raonic. Based on what he has shown us and the hype that surrounds him, it will likely be Raonic that encounters Rafa.

It would be quite a stretch to say that the rising Canadian would beat Rafa in this match, but he certainly has the capability to push his opponent.

We saw what happened last year when Nadal was put up against a big serve on the clay courts of Roland Garros; American John Isner took him to five sets in the first round. Raonic's serve is quite possibly even more of a threat than Isner's, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him take one or two sets.

From there, a still-strong Nadal will probably face the eighth-seeded Janko Tisparevic in the quarterfinals. Once again, I don't expect Rafa to lose here, but the second-highest ranked Serb did prove his value as a Top 10 player by taking out Djokovic in Madrid, and he may capitalize on Raonic's damage by tiring out the Spaniard just a bit more.

That would bring us to the semifinals. As stated earlier, the clear favorite to be his opponent there is Andy Murray.

This will probably be Nadal's toughest match up to that point, seeing as the Scotsman is a three-time Slam finalist. If his previous opponents do wear the Spaniard down even the slightest bit, it will probably begin to show around here. Rafa will probably reach the final, but don't be surprised at all to see a long five-setter here.

If Djokovic plays well enough to reach the final from his side of the draw, both players will be tired and at least partially worn by the two weeks of Roland Garros play.

As a result, neither will be on top of their game, and the playing field will be much more level. Only in this situation will the Serb have a solid chance at clinching the Career Slam and keeping his Calendar Slam hopes alive.

Long story short, Novak Djokovic will be rooting for players like Raonic, Tipsarevic and Murray when he is off the courts.