The 2013 French Open presents yet another opportunity for Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay, to capture his eighth title at the prestigious tournament. Even with a difficult draw ahead of him at Roland Garros as a No. 3 seed, the living legend will find a way to capture the trophy yet again.
Nadal made sure he was fit enough to compete at his extraordinarily high level when he returned from an eight-month injury hiatus, because he's been in the final of every tournament he's entered thus far in 2013.
Given his previous success in Paris, there is little reason to believe he won't duplicate the feat, which Sports Illustrated's Bryan Armen Graham highlights with a mind-blowing statistic:
Rafael Nadal has won seven French Open titles. The other 127 players in the field combined have won one.— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) May 24, 2013
That's not to say Nadal's run is going to be easy, though. It's getting harder to project when Nadal's career is going to end. Though he does maintain peak physical condition when he's competing, the knee issues that have ailed him over the years make his situation constantly precarious.
Nadal plays every point as if it is his last almost better than anyone. Such a sense of urgency is rare, and it will only increase as his career winds down. Whether that's good for Nadal or not is another matter entirely, but it bodes well for him in the second leg of the Grand Slam events.
Also helping Nadal is his momentous, dominant victory in Rome over the legendary Roger Federer by a margin of 6-1, 6-3. Below is just one of the highlights from the win, which marked Nadal's sixth singles title of the season and bumped his record against Federer to 20-10:
The Spaniard has always had a stranglehold on this epic rivalry, but on his preferred surface, it hasn't been close, per ESPN Stats & Info:
After today's win in Italy, Rafael Nadal is 13-2 vs Roger Federer on clay— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 19, 2013
As strong as Nadal's form is right now, plenty of resistance stands in Nadal's way as he bids to continue rewriting history at the French Open. Not least among his opponents is a prospective semifinal clash with Novak Djokovic.
The world No. 1 defeated Nadal in their last meeting at the ATP Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and will be seeking to avenge his loss in the French Open final from a year ago. It's the only part of the career Grand Slam Djokovic is missing, which only adds more fuel to the fire.
Even before then, several upstarts have the potential to topple Nadal if he's not completely on his game.
Who is the biggest threat to knock out Nadal before the semis?
Kei Nishikori, who upset Federer in Madrid, is also a threat in the Round of 16. In the quarterfinals, a resurgent No. 7 seed, Richard Gasquet, could very well beat out Stanislas Wawrinka and prove to be a tough out with his native French crowd behind him.
None of the aforementioned players can match Nadal's unique combination of fitness, power, topspin and overall prowess on clay. It's a formidable slate of opponents, but other than Gasquet, Nadal should dispose of them rather easily.
With his recent dominance over Federer and his 4-0 record against top contender Andy Murray on clay, look for Nadal to triumph even if he does encounter either of those superstars in the final.
Note: All statistics and information, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.