Rafael Nadal: Biggest Reasons Rafa Is Favorite Heading into 2013 French Open

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2013

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - APRIL 21: Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a backhand against Gilles Simon of France in their semi-final during day seven of the ATP Monte Carlo Masters, at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club  on April 21, 2012 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Many tennis fans and experts talk about Rafael Nadal's aching knees as if they are two ticking time bombs, waiting to explode at any moment. 

But in reality, no one knows how many more titles Rafa's knees are capable of winning. Since returning from a seven-month hiatus to rest his battered body, Nadal has looked sharp, playing quality tennis at the 2013 ATP VTR Open in Chile this February.

That's why, even with a little more than three-and-a-half months before the arrival of the 2013 French Open, Nadal must still be considered the favorite to win at Roland Garros for an eighth time.

Clay-Court Dominance

You don't have to be a mathematician to understand just how superb Nadal has been on clay over the years. 

Rafa has won 93 percent of his career singles matches on clay and 52 of 53 singles matches at the French Open since 2005. In addition, Nadal holds the record for most career titles at four clay-court tournaments: Monte Carlo (eight), French Open (seven), Barcelona (seven) and Rome (six).

He's won three straight French Open titles since 2010, seven of the last eight overall, and boasts a 21-match winning streak on the red clay of Paris. Plus, Rafa has never needed more than four sets to dispose of his opponent in any of his previous seven French Open finals.

When it comes to the history books at the French Open and other prestigious clay-court events, no name is more prevalent than Nadal's.

Rest Factor

While Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have been battling for Grand Slam titles and the No. 1 ranking, Rafael Nadal has been away from tennis, resting his knees and other key body parts over the past seven months.

Although rust is always a concern, the flip side of time off is invaluable recovery time.

Rafa has had more than half a year to revitalize his aching body, which, at age 26, has been under immense demand and strain for the past decade or so.

While many of his rivals have been wearing themselves out in pursuit of becoming the best in men's tennis, Nadal has been resting and preparing himself for another run to the top. Considering how grueling the tennis season can be, the rest factor cannot be overlooked as it pertains to Rafa's chances of winning an eighth career French Open championship.

Playing Style

Nadal's scrappy, defensive style of play has always suited him well on clay. Even after he became No. 1 in the world, Rafa never changed his style, always hustling and looking like the underdog rather than the favorite he so often is.

That stylethe sort of never-say-die game planhas helped catapult Nadal into the tennis history books, though, so why stop now?

He thrives as a human wall on the slow-playing clay, where he can chase down balls and fire them back over the net until his opponent loses his will.

After Nadal gets ahead early on clay, he demoralizes his foes, never slowing and making it clear that he won't be outworked. It's a playing style that has made Rafa one of the most beloved athletes in the world in recent years and one that makes him the clear-cut favorite to win an unprecedented eighth career French Open championship this June.

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