Rafael Nadal is the king of Roland Garros—no matter his seeding in the tournament pool.
He has been granted the No. 5 seed for the draw (h/t Sports Illustrated), as the tournament officials have elected to abide by the Official ATP rankings rather than give Nadal a bump for his mastery of the court.
It only adds an added layer of intrigue to the 2013 French Open, scheduled to begin on May 26.
Over the course of his career, Nadal has been darn-near unbeatable at the event.
Only Max Decugis has more wins at the French Open (8) than Nadal (7), and Decugis' eight wins were all before 1968—when the French Open was an amateur tournament known as the French Championships.
Nadal has taken home seven of the last eight Roland Garros titles and has never needed a fifth set to do so. Simply put—healthy and on clay at the French Open, Nadal is the most dangerous man on the ATP Tour.
Despite being banged up for the better part of the last year, Nadal has been a menace on the professional tour this season, winning four of his six tournaments entered and reaching the finals in the other two.
It might come as a surprise, then, that he's still the fifth-best player in the world on paper, behind David Ferrer (who he beat in the final of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel), Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic—the last of which is one of only two men to beat Nadal in the 2013 season.
"We all know he would deserve it," said Federer, who is the last man besides Nadal to win the French Open (2009). "I mean, he’s been so successful there in the last eight, nine years that everybody knows that he deserves it."
But, then again, Federer also notes that cream rises to the top—it won't matter what seed Nadal is, because the champion will likely have to beat him to bring home such a title:
Is it really going to make a huge difference if he’s five or one? Not a whole lot, I don’t think, at the end of the tournament. If I were to play him in the quarters or in the semis or any other player, it’s not the finals yet. So the best is going to win. Rafa obviously has a great chance because of the great player he is on clay.
Federer makes a great point, and one that could shape the tournament before it ever begins.
By not being seeded in the top two, Nadal will likely have to face Federer or Djokovic in the quarter or semifinals—matches that could be play-in games for the French Open title if you discount Murray and Ferrer as true contenders on clay.
Nadal himself is looking forward to the challenge of proving his seed to be non-important at Roland Garros, speaking to reporters who work for the ATP official website in preparation for his current tournament—the Mutua Madrid Tournament:
I think I can play better than what I have until now...The results are difficult to get better, but the way I played in Monte Carlo and Barcelona could be better, yes. But here [Madrid] we're to keep on trying to do better and keep on fighting to have the opportunities to be competitive.
Nadal gets back on the court on Wednesday morning, when he'll take on Benoît Paire in the second round of the 2013 Madrid Open after receiving a first-round bye.
Looking ahead to Roland Garros, Nadal will most certainly be one of the favorites. He's won three straight tournaments there and seven out of the last eight, and his prowess on clay is well documented.
If he's fully healthy and ready to take on a full workload of winning a major championship, there are very few tennis pros capable of competing with him for a full match on clay. He's shown that by only dropping two matches so far this season, and as he pontificates in the ATP interview, the best could be yet to come.
We'll be keeping a close eye on the 2013 French Open no matter the seeding, but Nadal's place as a "sleeper" in the No. 5 seed only adds intrigue to an already loaded field. As other contenders try to emerge, an old champion will yet again try to assert himself as the world's best at the French Open.
He might get a marquee matchup in the first few rounds that would do just that.
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