Rafael Nadal crushed the competition at the Madrid Open, which sets him up nicely for the 2013 French Open.
He dropped just one set in five matches, and swept through the semifinals and finals for the win.
Although Nadal didn't face Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray en route to his victory, Madrid featured upsets where the underdogs won at an unexpected rate. Federer and Djokovic each fell before the quarterfinals.
Murray then dropped to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, who lost to Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland. In a tournament where the big names were failing to overcome the stampede of lower/unseeded players, Nadal refused to crumble.
Who will challenge Nadal the most at the French Open?
To a certain degree, that's just as tough of a mental challenge for elite athletes to fight through.
Had Nadal squared off versus Federer and/or Djokovic during that tournament, he obviously would have been diligently prepared. By contrast, getting ready for a much lesser-known opponent takes extra focus, as they become easy to overlook.
Instead, Nadal rolled. Expect him echo this performance at Roland-Garros.
For one, Nadal took the clay-surface Grand Slam for a third straight time last year, and he has won seven of eight since 2005. Even more impressive, he won 20 straight sets to open the 2012 French Open and only lost one set before winning it (Djokovic won third set in finals).
In short, the 2013 French Open is Nadal's to lose.
And Roger Federer believes the Spaniard deserves a high seed in France as well, according to Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated last week:
“We all know he would deserve it,” said Federer. “I mean, he’s been so successful there in the last eight, nine years that everybody knows that he deserves it.”
“Is it really going to make a huge difference if he’s five or one?” Federer said. “Not a whole lot, I don’t think, at the end of the tournament."
Federer's not wrong either.
Until Nadal is knocked off the French Open pedestal, he is the man to beat. His smashing performance in Madrid is further evidence, as well as having reached the finals in every tournament since early February.
The man has found a rhythm, and we'll see Nadal make a run at the top position before Wimbledon.