Rafael Nadal's 8th French Open Title Nearly Guaranteed After Huge 2013 Start

Justin OnslowContributor IIMay 23, 2013

ROME, ITALY - MAY 19:  Rafael Nadal of Spain with his winners trophy after his straight sets victory against Roger Federer of Switzerland in their final match during day eight of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2013 at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre  on May 19, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

As if Rafael Nadal’s prior exploits at Roland Garros weren’t enough, there are plenty of other reasons to believe the “King of Clay” will add another French Open win to his resume this year.

After missing seven months with two ailing knees, "Rafa" returned in 2013 to the same form we’ve come to expect from the 26-year-old in his professional career. With wins in six of his eight tournaments this year (and finals appearances in the others), Nadal has proved that nothing can slow him down—not even his knees.

And it’s not as if Nadal’s exploits this year are the result of weak competition or lack of participation in challenging events. In his six titles this season, the King of Clay has bested two of the top players in the world in Roger Federer and David Ferrer, both of whom will be on hand at Roland Garros.

Many expected Rafa to return this season with mixed results, as he may be still bothered by knee troubles that have plagued him throughout his career. While those same ailments may still be bothering him, it hasn’t shown on the court.

The fact of the matter is this: At Roland Garros, it’s Rafa versus the rest of the field.

With a 52-1 record at the venue and a 2013 season of dominance under his belt, it doesn’t matter who else is in the field at the French Open. Anything can happen, but there’s only one likely scenario.

With his win at the Rome Masters, Nadal moved up in the ATP rankings to No. 4—a far cry from his No. 1 ranking prior to his layoff but still plenty high enough for the French Open seeding to not affect his path to the finals.

And to add to the intrigue, according to Christopher Clarey of The New York Times, world No. 2 Andy Murray won’t be in attendance at the French Open due to an ailing back. Murray is the only member of the Big Four that Nadal has yet to face this year, and he won’t be meeting up with him at Roland Garros.

What that also means for Rafa is a higher seed in the tournament. Instead of the No. 4 seed he was expected to receive, Nadal will be making a run at his eighth French Open title from the No. 3 seed—a position in the draw that should give him little to worry about.

That jump in the rankings wouldn’t have been possible without his tremendous performance to start the 2013 season. Two birds, one stone.

Last 10 French Open Finals

Year Winner Runner-Up
2012 Rafael Nadal Novak Djokovic
2011 Rafael Nadal Roger Federer
2010 Rafael Nadal Robin Soderling
2009 Roger Federer Robin Soderling
2008 Rafael Nadal Roger Federer
2007 Rafael Nadal Roger Federer
2006 Rafael Nadal Roger Federer
2005 Rafael Nadal Mariano Puerto
2004 Gaston Gaudio Guillermo Coria
2003 Juan Carlos Ferrero Martin Verkerk

In a vacuum, a case can be made for Federer, Djokovic or potentially Ferrer to make a run at the title. All three players are talented in nearly every facet of the game, and each has proved he can compete with the best of the sport.

But Nadal’s 2013 dominance and history at Roland Garros add oxygen to that vacuum. With the King of Clay in the field—and as dominant as ever—there’s no reason to believe anyone can challenge him on his favorite court.