Images of Rafael Nadal scampering across red-colored dirt in South America over the last couple weeks has brought the 2013 French Open into focus a lot earlier than usual this year. The excitement is hard to ignore when one considers the jaw-dropping matches Nadal has produced against the top players. The see-saw battle and extreme conditions from last year's final in Paris are particularly fresh memories, despite the time that's passed.
For this reason, it's worth considering some of the burning questions facing men's tennis as the tour creeps towards Paris.
Burning question number one involves of course the Spaniard from Majorca. Who else? Speculation regarding Nadal's health will surely dominate the headlines until the French Open starts.
Despite what Nadal or anyone else might say, his ability to win at Roland Garros will dictate the public's perception of his comeback. If he's holding the bigger trophy at the end of the second weekend in Paris, he will be declared fit as a fiddle by the court of public opinion.
The opposite will be true if anyone else's name is engraved on La Coupe des Mousquetaires come June.
The next burning question entering the second quarter of the Slam season surrounds Novak Djokovic. After becoming the first player to win three consecutive Australian Open titles earlier this year, tennis fans are eagerly waiting to see if the Djoker can build on his recent success. And not the empire-building Djokovic is said to be undertaking in the realm of donkey cheese.
Rather, it's the on-court drama surrounding Nole's ability to finally be the last man standing in Paris that will soon captivate audiences worldwide. Should he actually win in France this year, Djoker will bypass any talk of a "Spanish monkey on his back" and simultaneously complete the career Grand Slam.
No small feat given he would be only the fifth person to do so in the Open Era. But if Djokovic should fail, especially against Rafael Nadal, that question previously alluded to will trail him on the circuit like a faithful hound.
It's well known that Roger Federer's pursuit of the French Open title was met with Majorcan resistance. But this year, unlike years past, there's no guarantee that Nadal will come through unscathed. If he does triumph, an eighth title in nine tries will set a near-impenetrable standard.
The third burning question at Roland Garros also involves Djokovic's quest for the title, albeit for a completely different reason. With his win in Melbourne and an immediate follow-up victory in Paris, Djokovic would ascend into a fairly exclusive group. Since the introduction of hard courts in the Slams, there have only been two male players to start off a year winning both the Australian Open and the French Open.
Shockingly, neither is named Federer or Nadal. The only two male players to win the first two Slams of the calendar year since they covered the courts in Australia with cement are Jim Courier and Mats Wilander.
Given the high level of competition over the past decade, that's incredible information to digest. The calendar Grand Slam requires a player to win four consecutive Slams—and the last man to win even two consecutively to kick-off a year was Courier in 1992.
Should Djokovic somehow prevail in the France, the bonus burning question is even more intriguing. Not one male player has ever started a year winning the first three consecutive Slams on three different surfaces.
The last man to collect the first three, Rod Laver, did so roughly 43 years ago and only on two different surfaces. If Djokovic could somehow win Wimbledon in addition to the first two, he would become only the second male player ever to record such a "Surface Slam" and the first to do so in that order. Under that scenario, the Calendar itself would be within reach - but that's a burning question for later.