Rafael Nadal and "French Open dominance" are usually synonymous by the time we get to the end of May. However, with the recent form of Novak Djokovic and all the extenuating circumstances for Nadal, we might actually have a close competition on our hands this year.
Of course, nothing can be ruled out when it comes to Nadal and Roland Garros, for as we've seen throughout the years, he deserves his status as favorite on the clay.
Winning seven out of the last eight French Open titles will do that.
However, 2013 is shaping up as a different story altogether. Nadal will be playing his first Grand Slam since his second-round exit and subsequent injuries at Wimbledon in 2012, and whilst he has bounced back with some strong form this year, he has yet to prove it in a Grand Slam competition.
Djokovic, on the other hand, has seemingly done what he always does—win.
The World No. 1 started off the year in dominant fashion by winning his third straight Australian Open title. He then backed that up with various ATP performances to give him a season record of 26-2, with the most impressive performance of them all coming at the Monte Carlo Masters.
Nadal had won the last eight Masters' titles, yet it was Djokovic who emerged triumphant on the clay court surface with a 6-2, 7-6 victory, ending Nadal's reign.
Whilst that one loss doesn't automatically mean that the Serbian international will dominate the Spaniard come Roland Garros, it is a fascinating storyline to follow. Djokovic is playing arguably the best tennis of his career on clay, and if he carries that with him into the French Open later this month, he could well launch the best challenge Nadal has seen since 2009, where he was stunned in the fourth round by Sweden's Robin Soderling.
That match remains the only loss Nadal has had at Roland Garros, and Djokovic—with his current form—could well be the man to replicate it this year.
Djokovic will enter the French Open as a clear No. 1 seed, whilst Nadal will likely enter as the No. 5 seed given his time off the court. That in itself could provide the most fascinating storyline of them all, with the pair potentially meeting as early as the quarterfinals, depending on the draw.
The 25-year-old will remember all too well the heartbreak of last year's two-day final where he had Nadal on the ropes several times before the rain delay.
Perhaps this is the year where he can finally take that next step over Nadal.
There's still plenty of clay court action to be found in both Madrid and Rome prior to the French Open getting underway on May 26th, and there is little doubting that the results of both of those tournaments will drastically alter who enters Roland Garros as the Grand Slam favorite.
But in terms of early storylines and intrigue heading into the French Open, they don't get much more interesting than the one we're witnessing this year.
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