Rafael Nadal Looks Vulnerable Heading into 4th Round of 2013 French Open

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Rafael Nadal Looks Vulnerable Heading into 4th Round of 2013 French Open
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of waltzing into his fourth-round matchup at Roland Garros full of his usual swagger and bravado, Rafael Nadal is limping toward his showdown with Kei Nishikori shrouded in uncertainty.

The 2013 French Open hasn’t been kind to “The King of Clay,” as the favorite has lost more games over the first three rounds than in any other of seven championship outings.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Rust could be to blame, as Nadal is participating in his first Grand Slam tournament since a knee problem kept him sidelined from last summer all the way through February.

While he’s only suffered two losses on his way to six titles in lesser events this season, the pressure and colossal expectations of Roland Garros may be crushing Nadal both physically and mentally.

Julian Finney/Getty Images
Kei Nishikori will present yet another tough challenge for Nadal in the next round.

Not only is the Spaniard expected to win this tournament for a record-extending eighth time in the Open era, but it’s a cause for concern when he’s not downright dominant.

Rafa took his lumps early on in 2011—another title year for the superstar at the French Open—but he’s never had this rocky of a start and still rebounded to win it all on Court Philippe Chatrier.

 

Rafael Nadal Games Lost over First Three Rounds at French Open

(h/t Brian Leigh, Bleacher Report)

Year

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Total

2013

19

15

14

48

2012

5

4

8

17

2011

24

14

4

42

2010

6

7

10

23

2008

9

5

5

19

2007

10

7

6

23

2006

8

7

19

34

2005

8

8

9

25

The veteran hasn’t just failed to display his usual brilliance but has also been tested by each opponent in ways that no one could have ever predicted prior to the start of this tournament.

Daniel Brands, an unranked challenger, stole the first set in the first round from Nadal—the first time that has happened in nine years—with such ease, you would have thought the German was the third-seeded player.

Martin Klizan also came out and claimed the first battle of an eventual losing war against the King of Clay, something Nadal tried to blame on the weather and lack of preparation.

Things were a bit easier against Fabio Fognini, as Nadal won in straight sets for the first time all tourney, but he still started off slow and needed a tiebreak to capture the initial set.

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Hopefully, those last two sets were a sign of things to come for the defending champ, as Rafa will not be able to overcome any more poor sets if he wants to win it all next Sunday.

The optimists will claim he's just saving his energy and waiting to unleash his best play, but that hasn't been his usual style over the years. 

A semifinal showdown with Novak Djokovic may still be on the horizon, but Nadal isn’t going to make the finals at Roland Garros if he doesn’t shape up soon.

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