Rafael Nadal will attempt to win his eighth French Open title in nine years when he takes the court at Roland Garros this weekend. And if that fact doesn't astound you, then re-read it until it finally starts to sink in—he's won all but one match in nine years at the French Open.
Not one of those titles have come against easy opposition, either, with all but one championship final against a player ranked top five or higher—proving beyond any doubt that he is the king of Roland Garros.
Such dominance has not ever been seen before in men's tennis.
And yet, even with that dominance, the 2013 French Open is still wide open.
The Spaniard will no doubt be the undisputed favorite for the tournament and will definitely not be an easy-beat; that much we can guarantee will happen.
Yet even with Nadal losing just one match since his successful return from injury and even with his strong history at Roland Garros, the tournament is still up for grabs.
Read on to see the biggest reasons why.
Nadal's History Against Novak Djokovic
Perhaps the biggest reason why Nadal can't just be confirmed as a "lock" for the title is the current World No. 1, Novak Djokovic. For despite the fact that clay isn't Djokovic's strongest surface, he's certainly more than capable of pushing the Spaniard and triumphing over him this year.
Proof of that was found at the Monte Carlo Masters in April.
Arguably Nadal's favorite tournament, Djokovic was able to finish over the top of Nadal and emerge with a huge clay-court victory in the process.
Now many will be quick to point out here that since that win, Djokovic has done next to nothing, and they'd be 100 percent correct. He was stunned by Grigor Dimitrov and then Tomas Berdych in back-to-back tournaments to leave him without the best of form coming into the French Open, but there's no taking away from the fact that he beat Nadal, on clay, this year.
Nadal will be comforted by the fact that he did secure a key win against Djokovic in the final last year, but even that wasn't as straightforward as it seemed.
Djokovic was starting to assert himself in the match when the rain delay came in the fourth set, and it did kill his momentum somewhat. Even then, he still had a number of chances to win the fourth set before Nadal eventually closed it 7-5, and will take confidence knowing that he can indeed beat Nadal at Roland Garros—even if it's something that he's never done before.
The Serbian has been playing great tennis this year, and his performance at the 2013 Australian Open showed that he hasn't dropped a single step from his 2012 season.
Nadal might hold a career head-to-head advantage over Djokovic, but the World No. 1 has won eight of their past 11 encounters. Moreover, since 2011, Djokovic has taken three finals off Nadal on clay, and has split the head-to-head clay-court record 3-3 in that time.
3-3 against Nadal—on clay, in two years—is definitely a record to be proud of, and Djokovic will surely try to use that to carry him toward the Grand Slam title here.
Key Withdrawals in Men's Field
You'd also have to think that the unpredictable nature of the draw and field this year for the French Open make this one very open.
For not only do we not yet know who Nadal will be facing in the semifinals and the like, we don't even know how the rest of the seeds are going to fall, courtesy of several big-name stars dropping out of the tournament. Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro are the two biggest names to be scratched this year, and it will be fascinating to see how their absence affects the field.
It will give a huge advantage to the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Stanislas Wawrinka and Nicolas Almagro, who will all move up in the seeding and could now find much easier runs to the quarterfinals and semifinals than they would otherwise have had this year.
Interestingly, Nadal has not played anyone ranked outside of the top six in the world in all seven of his French Open finals. He's only played three players ranked outside the top six in the semifinals as well, and has therefore become very accustomed to playing guys closer to his level in at Roland Garros.
That might seem harder, but it means they're less likely to go for big shots all the time—which is what an outsider might try to do against Nadal if they meet.
We saw in his one French Open loss. Sweden's Robin Soderling went for big shots all the time, and it paid off. And with the unpredictable nature of the draw this year at the 2013 French Open thanks to all the key withdrawals, it could definitely be a storyline worth watching for again this year.
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