Rafael Nadal's Strong Return Makes Him Surefire Favorite for 2013 French Open

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2013

May 19, 2013; Rome, ITALY; Rafael Nadal (ESP) during his match against Roger Federer (SUI) in the men's final of the Rome Open at Foro Italico.  Mandatory Credit: Nicolas Luttiau/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports
Presse Sports-USA TODAY Sports

Can anyone stop Rafael Nadal at this year's French Open? The short answer is no.

After all, the guy's won seven of the last eight French Open titles. It was at Roland Garros in 2005 that Nadal burst on the scene by beating Roger Federer in the semifinals en route to his first Grand Slam title.

The best thing Nadal could have done last year was to take a massive break. Losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon told you something was wrong. Nadal has had problems with his knees but never to that extent.

His physical style of play has done a number on his knees, causing him to take a brief hiatus on multiple occasions. The New York Times has a great visual breakdown of what his knees undergo every time Nadal steps on a court.

Nadal made his return this past February at the VTR Open in Chile, where he ended up losing to Horacio Zeballos in the final. Since that point, however, it's been nothing but good things for Nadal.

You wondered with the mystery behind Nadal's return just what kind of player he would be. Nobody could have expected him to return to form this quickly.

He's won six singles titles in 2013 to run his match record to 36-2—the other loss coming to Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo.

Despite the layoff, Nadal has come back to the court as strong as ever. He's hitting the ball very well and showing good movement on the court. Even a Nadal at 70 or 80 percent would be considered the favorite at Roland Garros. At 100 percent, Nadal is untouchable.

Getting drawn in the same side as Djokovic could cause problems, but the Serbian will have to be perfect in order to knock off Nadal. Djokovic has never captured the French Open—the only Grand Slam title that he hasn't won.

Djokovic will be a threat, but it's hard envisioning him being able to knock off Nadal.

Watching the Spaniard on clay is always a joy.

His style of play suits the surface perfectly. With the relative slowness of the surface, the arc of his shots is most effective on clay. Opponents must rely on outworking Nadal to win, which is almost impossible to do.

Plus, it looks at times as if Nadal has never set foot on another surface his entire life. He knows both how and when to slide in order to generate power and accuracy and to keep himself on the offensive.

With the way his knees have acted in the past, there's no telling how much longer Nadal's play will remain at such a high level. Fans should make sure to take the time and watch each and every second of his matches, for they are truly seeing a master of his craft.