Should Rafael Nadal win his eighth career French Open title at Roland Garros this year, he will have to make his way through a veritable gauntlet of difficult opponents.
Heading into Round 4, Nadal has looked surprisingly vulnerable at times against lesser opponents. The first two he faced took him to four sets, and Nadal has yet to put forth a dominant performance on the clay at Roland Garros.
Heading into the latter rounds, Nadal's competition will become increasingly more difficult to defeat. He'll need to play with more precision in order to reach the men's final and win this prestigious tournament once again.
These are the men with the best chance to take him down.
Nadal will face Nishikori in Round 4, and though the Japanese up-and-comer has never before gotten out of the second round at Roland Garros, he is playing well right now.
Nishikori defeated Roger Federer at the Madrid Masters early in May, and he's coming off an easy win in Round 3 against Benoit Paire. He's the first Japanese man to reach Round 4 since 1938, according to BBC Sport, though he wasn't aware of his achievement until someone told him:
"Sorry I'm not good at history." Kei Nishikori unaware he is first Japanese man in French Open last 16 since 1938. http://t.co/Imx3octsPA— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 1, 2013
Nadal and Nishikori have only faced one another one time in the past. Nadal won in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, but Nishikori put up a good fight. He earned seven break-point chances in that match, and he actually took an early lead in the first set.
A quick player with a powerful stroke, Nishikori has the game to pull off a big upset.
Is it likely? No, but given the way Nadal has struggled early in this tournament it certainly is a match he could lose.
Stanislas Wawrinka/Richard Gasquet
Nadal's Greatest Opponent at the French Open is...
Should Nadal make his way past Nishikori, he'll compete against one of these two men. Wawrinka (9) and Gasquet (7) will face off in Round 4 for the right to challenge Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Unfortunately, neither man has ever defeated Nadal in 19 combined attempts.
Past history aside, should one of these men get hot in the quarterfinals, this is a matchup that could potentially be troublesome for the "King of Clay" given his recent struggles at Roland Garros
More than likely, however, this quarterfinals match will be the calm before the storm for Nadal, who is in line to face the No. 1 player in the world in the semifinals.
There isn't another player on the ATP Tour who matches up against Nadal as equally as Djokovic.
In their careers, these two giants have faced one another 34 times, with Nadal claiming 19 wins to Djokovic's 15.
Djokovic defeated Nadal recently in straight sets in the men's final at Monte Caro. It was an impressive victory for the Serbian, as Nadal had won the tournament eight years in a row before losing this year.
The winner of this potential semifinals match will likely be heavily favored to win the French Open.
The only other big-time threat on the bottom half of the draw is Roger Federer. The Swiss has won the French Open just once in his Hall of Fame career, and he hasn't fared well against Nadal in the past—especially on clay.
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