Rafael Nadal is only the No. 4-ranked player in the world due largely to the fact that he missed seven months with a knee injury. There was some concern that his ranking would cost him dearly when the French Open draw came out, but it turns out that Nadal is in perfect position to capture his eighth title at Roland Garros.
There are no guarantees in tennis, however, Rafa is about as automatic as they come in the French Open. Nadal has won seven of the past eight French Open titles and is unquestionably the best clay-court player of this generation. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to call him the best clay-court player in tennis history.
Because of that, Nadal could probably play seeded players in every round and still come away victorious at Roland Garros. Luckily for him, though, that won't be necessary. The draw is set up so well for Nadal that it's very possible he won't even drop a set until the semifinals at the earliest.
Nadal will essentially face the path of least resistance heading into the semis as evidenced by the bracket (h/t RolandGarros.com):
Rafa shouldn't have much trouble with German qualifier Daniel Brands in the first round. It's also unlikely that he'll break a sweat against either Martin Klizan or American Michael Russell in the second round. Things won't get interesting until the third round as Nadal could potentially lock horns with a recent nemesis of his.
Nadal's most likely third-round opponent is No. 27-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy, but he is far from a lock to make it that far. The other possibility is Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic. Most tennis fans probably remember Rosol as the little-known player who ousted Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon last year.
Some have classified it as the biggest upset in men's tennis history as Nadal was the No. 2 seed and many expected him to make it to the finals, particularly after winning the 2012 French Open. Only the most avid fans had ever heard of Rosol before, so the result came as a shock to everyone. While Rosol won fair and square, Nadal's knee clearly had something to do with it as he went on to miss the next two Grand Slam tournaments as well as the London Olympics due to his ailment.
Nadal is back and better than ever, though, as the 26-year-old Spaniard has gone 36-2 this year with six titles to his credit. If Rosol happens to make it to the third round, look for Rafa to play with a vengeance and dispatch of him in short order.
Things will get slightly tougher after that as Nadal's possible round-of-32 opponents include No. 24 Benoit Paire and No. 13 Kei Nishikori, who recently beat Roger Federer at the Madrid Open. Even so, neither man has the tools necessary to take out Nadal, especially on clay.
It is anyone's guess which player Nadal will meet in the quarterfinals as that part of the draw is fairly wide open. No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka, No. 21 Jerzy Janowicz, No. 7 Richard Gasquet and No. 28 Florian Mayer are all possibilities. Wawrinka would be Nadal's toughest opposition as he reached the final of the Madrid Open, however, Nadal shouldn't have too much trouble.
The semifinals are where things should get interesting. According to AP Sports, a humongous clash between Nadal and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic is penciled in for the semis provided both men are able to take care of business ahead of time.
Although that may seem like a terrible break for Nadal on the surface, the truth of the matter is that he probably would have had to face Djokovic to win the French Open regardless, so it doesn't really matter if it happens in the semifinals or the final. One of Nadal's two losses this season came at the hands of Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters final, so there is some concern that Rafa could slip up.
With that said, Djoker has struggled in recent tournaments as he was eliminated by the likes of Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov. He simply isn't in great form right now, and he needs to be at his best in order to beat Nadal. Rafa is playing so well right now that he would be a fairly substantial favorite if they were to meet in the semis.
Assuming Nadal makes it through all of that, a final encounter with his long-time rival in the form of Federer could be the only thing standing between him and his eighth French Open title in nine years. Federer is far from a sure thing to make it to the finals despite a relatively easy draw, though, as he is 18-6 this year and has yet to win a tournament.
Nadal has beaten him twice this year, he is 5-0 against him at Roland Garros and 20-10 overall during his career. Rafa simply has Fed's number, so not even the No. 2 seed in the tournament can prevent Rafa from fulfilling his destiny.
It has been proven many times in the past that it isn't necessarily a good idea to make declarations in tennis, but when taking Nadal's draw into account, it's hard not to crown him as champion before the tournament even starts.
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