Rafael Nadal's No. 4 Seed Will Make for Intriguing 2013 French Open
Nadal's success at the Italian Open recently was enough to lift him above Spaniard David Ferrer, and will be the first time that the Big Four possess the top four seeds since Wimbledon last year, where Nadal was trounced in just the second round.
By all accounts, Nadal is healthy again and will most certainly be the man to catch heading into the French Open. His form is superb and none of his competitors are seemingly able to even get close to him, with his one defeat to Novak Djokovic in the final at Monte Carlo the only real blemish on his year so far.
And with an incredible French Open resume, it's easy to see why he's the favorite once again, with the clay-court king looking for his eighth career title at Roland Garros.
In just nine years, as well.
The draw of the French Open will no doubt bring with it plenty of intriguing matchups and storylines, but perhaps the biggest of them all is the fact that Nadal is once again back in the Big Four. That might not seem like much, but it will have a profound impact on the way that the tournament is run, and historically, it should favor the Spaniard in terms of his chances to make the final.
For even now, there appears to be only one (or maybe two) main threats at stopping Rafa at Roland Garros—Novak Djokovic and perhaps Roger Federer.
Djokovic is the World No. 1 and seemingly the only man with the form capable of stopping Nadal, having shown already this season that he can beat Rafa.
He's lost a number of games since then to put some big question marks in front of him, but as the World No. 1, it's more than likely that the Serbian will bounce back here.
I also put Federer in that list simply for his ability to push Nadal at Roland Garros. Historically, he's never beaten the Spaniard on the clay courts in Paris, but he has met the World No. 4 several times throughout his career and has pushed him on nearly every single occasion they've clashed.
So pencil a "maybe" in next to Federer.
The rest are seemingly up in the air. Andy Murray doesn't have a clay-court game. David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych have both been beaten by Nadal in recent weeks.
Even at this early stage, it appears all down to Djokovic to stop Nadal.
And that's where being the No. 4 seed (and not the No. 5 or anything higher) will dramatically boost the chances of Nadal heading into the 2013 French Open.
Nadal—as the No. 4 seed—will be paired on the top half of the draw as Djokovic, with Federer and Murray paired on the bottom half. And whilst it might not have happened in the past few years, both Djokovic and Nadal have played out some thrilling matches when paired on the same side of the draw.
Back in 2006, the then No. 2 seed Nadal beat an unseeded Djokovic in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, before moving on to beat Federer in the final.
In 2007, Djokovic was the No. 6 seed and he again lost to Nadal—this time going down in the semifinals, with Nadal going on to beat Federer again.
In 2008, it was Nadal-Djokovic in the semifinals once more, and Nadal-Federer in the final once more. And once again, it was the exact same result for the Spaniard.
The pair were on course to beat in the semifinals again in 2010, but Djokovic lost in the quarterfinals—giving Nadal a relatively simply run to the title once more.
Since then, Nadal and Djokovic have only met once—and it was in the final.
That was last year's rain-interrupted event, where the Serbian international was really pushing the clay-court king before they were forced to delay the final.
Djokovic was unable to get his momentum going on the second day, and Nadal again walked away as a champion, but that day was potentially huge in the rivalry.
Having never beaten Nadal at Roland Garros, Djokovic will know that history is definitely not on his side when it comes to the French Open this year. He'll know that a matchup against the clay-court king in the semifinals looms large and that the past doesn't suggest he'll fare all that well against Rafa.
Especially not given the current form of the Spanish international.
However, for the remainder of the field, the fact that the two most likely Grand Slam champions this year will meet in the semifinals, could not be greater.
For it means that someone—be that Federer, Murray or whoever—will have a shot in the final against one of the two best clay-court players in the world right now.
It's what gives the French Open this year an element of intrigue and excitement; the fact that someone other than Djokovic-Nadal will be in the final.
The purists (who want the top two in the final and top four in the semifinals and so on) might disagree, but the fact that we could potentially have a taste of the final this year before it even begins is what makes Grand Slam tennis so exciting.
The fact that Djokovic—in all his greatness and dominance—hasn't beaten Nadal at Roland Garros and has never won the French Open before is enthralling.
The fact that Nadal is gunning for an eighth French Open title is incredible.
And the fact that arguably the two biggest talking points of the tournament are on a collision course for the semifinals—where their rivalry began—is perhaps the most intriguing storyline of them all.
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