The clay-court king recently stormed to a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Stanislas Wawrinka in the Madrid final to seemingly cement himself as the man to beat heading into Roland Garros—a truth that was obvious from the moment he returned from injury.
Nadal was always going to be the favorite for the French Open in 2013. Even if he only had half a knee, he'd still probably be the main man worth watching.
But to say that he's a lock for the title now is simply wrong.
That's not to say that his chances at winning the French Open aren't very strong and that he isn't the favorite, for that would be just madness.
What it is to say, however, is that winning the 2013 Madrid Open doesn't make him any more of a title threat at Roland Garros than he already was.
That bit is important. He's no more of a threat than he already was.
Many will want to say that winning at the Madrid Open makes him the lock for the French Open. Given his performances in Spain this week and his performances in France throughout his illustrious career, this doesn't seem to be all that incorrect.
Yes, Nadal just beat a field that held 15 of the top 16 players in the world. Yes, he won a tournament where the likes of Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic all fell short. And yes, he won the final in the most dominant of fashion, with Wawrinka spending his time either chasing down Nadal's forehands behind the baseline or watching winners fly past him as he approached the net.
But let's be real about Nadal and Madrid for a minute.
Benoit Paire, Mikhail Youzhny, Pablo Andujar. None of those are names that are going to strike fear into the heart of a world-class player on his favorite surface.
We're talking 37th, 31st and 113th (at the time of playing) in the world.
Ben Rothenberg @BenRothenberg
Missed whole men's final, but thoroughly unsurprised to see Rafael Nadal win another big clay title. Not his best week, but still a legend.2013-5-12 15:47:49
His quarterfinal victory against David Ferrer is a big scalp, and I don't for a minute want to discredit that win. Nadal fought gallantly and came away with a three-set victory against arguably the best clay-court player outside of the Big Four—but even that win had question marks around it given how close it was.
After all, Nadal lost the first set and won the second set in a tiebreak. Ferrer was one game away from beating the Spaniard and ending his Madrid Open run.
One game and the story would be entirely different.
Alas, it was not to be for Ferrer, and Nadal eventually moved through to the final where he took on Wawrinka. And as we've already discussed, he annihilated him.
But again, let's be real. It's Stanislas Wawrinka. Yes, he might have some nice form behind him in the past month or so, but he was barely even seeded for this tournament—such was his world ranking. In short, you'd say he was good, but nothing like being elite and close to the Big Four.
Plus he was exhausted, having played a number of games to the early hours of the morning and told reporters after the game that he was "out of juice" by the time he faced Nadal (per New York Times).
So was Madrid really the incredible victory it appeared?
Well, yes and no.
I'm not trying to underplay Nadal's success in Madrid this week, and it's important that we note that here. This is a guy who has come back from a myriad of injuries and yet he's managed to win several tournaments in the lead-up to the French Open—something that no other player has done like Nadal.
However, the question marks are still there to some extent.
Madrid wasn't a hard tournament in the end for Nadal, and it would have been a much bigger story if he had lost along the way. Which, again, he nearly did.
Combine that with his defeat to Djokovic at Monte Carlo—a venue that Nadal has performed better at in history than arguably any other venue—and those doubts are seemingly justified. What's more, they weren't eradicated because he beat the then-No. 15 seed in the world in straight sets.
Rafael Nadal is the overwhelming favorite for Roland Garros, and he should be. His record there alone testifies to that fact—as does his Grand Slam record as a whole. But to say that he became a lock for the 2013 French Open once he took out the Madrid Open is too far—even for one of the greatest clay-court players ever to play the sport.
He isn't any more, or any less, of a favorite because of the win.
It's simply another trophy to add to the ever-impressive collection.
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