Nadal suffered his eighth career loss Down Under this January, losing to Stanislas Wawrinka in the finals of the season's first major. The Australian Open on Twitter provided a statement from Nadal discussing the loss to Wawrinka:
Neil Harman of The Times observed Nadal's demeanor during the Australian Open final, which played a major role in his loss:
Wawrinka sustaining his terrific start to this final. Leads 5-2. Looks exceedingly comfortable. Rafa not so— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) January 26, 2014
However, we shouldn't be all that surprised by Nadal's defeat at Melbourne Park. Although expectations will always be sky-high for the world No. 1, historically, Rafa has always struggled at the Happy Slam, winning it just once in 2009.
Nadal was bothered by a back injury during his loss to Wawrinka, but with Roland Garros still four months away, Nadal is sure to be the overwhelming favorite to win his ninth career French Open title, barring another injury or illness in the weeks and months to come.
After all, the Spaniard is the greatest clay-court player the sport has ever seen and is an absurd 59-1 at the French Open since 2005. With a fifth straight championship in Paris, Nadal would become the first player to win more than four consecutive French Open crowns and the only player in history with more than eight to his name.
When you consider that eight of Rafa's 13 career major victories have come at the French Open, and that 18 of his 26 career Masters 1000 titles and 42 of his 61 overall singles titles have come on clay, it's no secret that Nadal will enter the clay-court season as the alpha dog on tour.
Will Nadal win a ninth French Open title in 2014?
If that's not enough to keep you aboard the Rafa bandwagon, consider his overall singles match record on clay: 292-21. Nadal has won slightly more than 93 percent of his clay-court singles matches over the course of his career and is averaging fewer than two clay-court losses per year since turning professional in 2001.
The key to Nadal's success in best-of-five-set matches at the French Open may just be his ability to suffer, per ESPN.com's Greg Garber: "I learned during all my career to enjoy suffering, and these kind of matches are very special. You don't have the chance to play these kind of matches every day."
While Novak Djokovic appears to be the one man capable of ending Nadal's reign on clay, having won three of their past seven meetings on Rafa's preferred surface, the Serb is 0-5 all-time against Nadal on the red clay of Roland Garros and will have to exorcise some significant demons in order to snap the current trend.
Therefore, the pressure won't be on Nadal, but the rest of the men's field to make up ground ahead of the season's second Slam.
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