Rafael Nadal has been in vintage form at the Sony Open thus far, but the Spanish star's ultimate result in Miami won't have any bearing on his favorite status heading into the French Open.
Although there is plenty of preparation time remaining before Roland Garros in late May, tennis fans are naturally looking ahead already. Rafa would probably like to have some momentum on his side as the French Open draws closer, but it is far from paramount.
Nadal is the greatest clay-court player in the history of tennis with eight French Open titles to his credit over the past nine years.
It's promising to see Nadal currently developing his all-around game on hard courts. However, he is an entirely different animal on clay.
It can be argued that Nadal's confidence was shaken when he lost to Stanislas Wawrinka at the Australian Open final earlier in the year, but nobody has a mental edge over Rafa in Paris.
Also, Nadal has rebounded just fine since then. He won the Rio Open in February and is coming off a pair of his most impressive wins in recent memory. Nadal was especially good in the third round of the Sony Open against Denis Istomin.
Nadal cruised to a 6-1, 6-0 victory, prompting Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times to marvel at the Spaniard's ability:
Scary good tennis from Nadal tonight, 6-1, 6-0 over a very capable opponent in Denis Istomin. A rare sub-hour match for the methodical Rafa.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 24, 2014
Christopher Clarey of The New York Times agreed and labeled it a statement win:
Denis Istomin is no Novak Djokovic but Nadal just sent a message with that performance. Moving like the Nadal everyone fears— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) March 24, 2014
Speaking with the press, Nadal acknowledged how well he played in that match, but he also knows that improvements need to be made moving forward:
I played a very complete match. No match is perfect but I did a lot of things very well. No mistakes, serving with good percentage, and playing a lot of winners. My movements were better than what I did last event events. That's a very important thing for me.
Rafa followed that up with a 6-2, 6-2 decimation of Fabio Fognini in the fourth round. As seen in this graphic courtesy of Tennis TV, Nadal was virtually flawless on serve:
The numbers from the Nadal-Fognini contest. Nadal has dropped nine games in three matches on his way to QF. pic.twitter.com/1w8KBDDxzN— TennisTV (@TennisTV) March 26, 2014
Nadal's serve will be a major weapon as it always has been at the French Open, but it's difficult to gauge how his current service success will translate to clay.
While Nadal's opponents thus far in Miami haven't exactly been pushovers, he hasn't done anything other than win matches that he was supposed to win.
Things will get much tougher in the closing rounds, as matches against the likes of Tomas Berdych and one of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Andy Murray are possible—should Nadal first get past Milos Raonic.
Which is most important for Nadal heading into the French Open?
There are no guarantees that Nadal will win this tournament, and even if he doesn't, there is no reason to believe that it will negatively impact him leading up to the French Open.
The important thing for Nadal at this point is getting consistent work in while remaining healthy. Injuries have held Nadal back at various points throughout his career, and while he has still managed to be become one of the best players in the history of tennis, his health is always a concern.
Nadal appears to be in spectacular condition right now and keeping that intact is far more important than winning a non-Grand Slam tournament.
Perhaps Nadal can have his cake and eat it too by winning the Sony Open and leaving South Florida with a clean bill of health, but expect Nadal to reign supreme at Roland Garros once again in 2014 regardless.
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