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French Open 2013: Why Rafael Nadal's Stranglehold on Roland Garros Is Slipping

Rafael Nadal has not been himself in the early stages of the French Open.
Rafael Nadal has not been himself in the early stages of the French Open.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistJune 1, 2013

Few athletes have dominated an event the way Rafael Nadal has dominated the French Open, but the star is showing signs of deterioration at Roland Garros.

While the reigning champion has advanced to the third round where he will play Fabio Fognini, he suffered some blips along the way. Nadal dropped the first set, 6-4, to each of his initial two competitors before rallying to advance.

Such mortality at Roland Garros is unusual for Nadal, who has claimed first place seven times in the past eight years and instilled a sense of futility among anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path, as encapsulated by Sports on Earth's tweet.

Not only did Nadal squander one set to Daniel Brands in the opening round, but he almost lost the second. The unseeded Brands took Nadal to the edge before the No. 3 seed took control of the tiebreaker.

It's nitpicking, sure, but that comes with the territory when you win the event almost annually. If lesser known adversaries can hold their own against him, how will Nadal fare against Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic?

Nadal has not hid his frustrations, but they were not directed at his own play. According to SI.com, the 26-year-old bashed the schedule that is forcing him to suit up today after playing the previous day.

For Nadal to win his fourth straight crown, he must endure a 10-day stretch with six matches. Although Nadal's match scheduled for Thursday was pushed back a day, Fognini got his match in, which enabled him to rest up on Friday while Nadal performed. As Nadal stated in the SI report, the situation is less than ideal for him.

“That’s not fair,” Nadal said. “And today I was playing almost three hours on court, and my opponent was watching the TV in the locker room. So if you [tell] me that’s fair, I say that’s not fair.”

In addition to altering the schedule, the rainy conditions have tested the health of Nadal, whose injured knee forced him to sit out the Olympics and the U.S. Open. When all is right, the clay courts are perfect for Nadal's swift agility, but rust and rain are offsetting those advantages.  

So maybe uncontrollable circumstances have just piled up against Nadal. Even if Djokovic or Federer claims the trophy this time around, they might just be babysitting it for a year.

Or perhaps there's a dent in Nadal's armor that will keep him from continuing to be the undisputed king of the Paris tournament.

His superiority could just be taking a one-year hiatus, but one loss at Roland Garros would be groundbreaking for a man who has only suffered one prior French Open defeat.

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