We knew he would be back to top form in time, but there is no way we could have guessed he would seamlessly bounce back into contention this quickly. He has reached the finals of all eight of the tournaments he has played in, winning six, since returning from a seven-month layoff due to a left knee injury.
The French Open will be his first Grand Slam appearance since his return. On Roland Garros’ clay courts he has enjoyed much success, winning seven of his eight appearances during his impressive career.
That left knee has shown no signs of weakness while Nadal has surged back to the top of the tennis totem pole.
His recent straight-set trampling of Roger Federer on the clay courts in Rome is evidence of just how far he has come in his rehabilitation. Questions about his knee are slowly beginning to fade as he piles up victory after victory.
However, don’t be too quick to dispel those concerns.
Toni Nadal, Rafa’s uncle and coach, said he is struggling with a lot of pain in that worrisome left knee, according to Kevin Jones of Livetennisguide.com.
What will happen when his knee, and his resolve, are put to the test in a best-of-five Grand Slam environment?
What is Rafael Nadal's biggest challenge at Roland Garros?
Everyone in the men’s draw is gunning for the tournament’s top performer. He needs to make short work of his competition and not drop too many sets. Minimizing wear and tear on his knee will be crucial if he hopes to be in top shape in the later rounds.
Who can challenge the king of clay, though, even if he’s not at 100 percent? Federer is struggling to say the least and Nadal has certainly been on the rise.
Novak Djokovic is the most immediate and daunting threat to Nadal's eighth French Open crown. He also has extra motivation this year as he is currently without a French Open title in his trophy case.
He had his shot last year. Djokovic was handily dispatched by Rafa in last year’s French Open final.
There will be no finals rematch in 2013 as the two were placed in the same half of the men’s draw. Although they could still find themselves in a thrilling head-to-head semifinals clash.
If there is anyone who could halt Nadal’s 2013 success in dramatic fashion it’s the world’s top-ranked star.
PHOTO via Reuters: Djokovic kisses his trophy after ending Nadal's eight-year reign in Monte Carlo twitter.com/ANCALERTS/stat…— ABS-CBN News Channel (@ANCALERTS) April 22, 2013
After all, Djoker has gotten the better of Rafa in three of their 15 career matches on clay. All three of those wins have come in their last six meetings. The most recent was at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo.
Djokovic’s game is nearly infallible and he is beginning to get the upper hand over his Spanish foe.
Other than Rafa himself (his knee), Djokovic is the biggest challenge for Nadal at Roland Garros.