The “King of Clay” need not worry about his draw at the French Open this year. Given his tremendous success at Roland Garros in the last eight years, entering the tournament as the No. 5 seed won’t damage his chances of adding yet another French Open title to his resume.
In the seven months Rafa was sidelined with a knee injury, the former No. 1 player in the world slipped down the ATP rankings and currently sits in fifth behind Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and David Ferrer, respectively. Despite his seven wins in eight years at Roland Garros, the French Open will seed Nadal at No. 5, based on the ATP rankings (via Tennis Now).
As current No. 2 player in the world Roger Federer pointed out, Rafa’s seeding won’t make much difference in how he fares in the tournament (via SI.com):
We all know he would deserve it. I mean, he’s been so successful there in the last eight, nine years that everybody knows that he deserves it. Is it really going to make a huge difference if he’s five or one? Not a whole lot, I don’t think, at the end of the tournament. If I were to play him in the quarters or in the semis or any other player, it’s not the finals yet. So the best is going to win. Rafa obviously has a great chance because of the great player he is on clay.
Nadal still has a chance to surpass Ferrer in the rankings prior to the French Open (in late May) with a good showing at the Madrid Open, but the difference between No. 4 and No. 5 won’t be all that noticeable. Regardless of the draw, it will be Rafa and the rest of the Big Four in hot pursuit of the title.
The biggest obstacle for Rafa could be the potential of meeting Djokovic prior to the finals, though. Should Nadal remain the No. 5 seed entering the tournament, a semifinals match between the two players could be in the cards—and Djokovic recently bested Nadal on clay at the Monte Carlo Masters.
That kind of defeat isn’t the norm for Nadal, however, especially on a clay surface. And at a comfortable venue at which Rafa has found more success than anyone, the same result would be far from likely.
With the draw not being announced until the Friday prior to the French Open, it’s impossible to break down the path Nadal must take to reach the finals, but there’s certainly no one with a better chance of doing so than the King of Clay. Just as he has done so many times in the last eight years, Rafa will cut through the opening rounds with little resistance en route to a finals showdown with one of his few contemporaries.
There’s no sense in worrying about seeding at this point. Six of Nadal’s seven victories came from a position outside the No. 1 seed, including his first win from the No. 4 ranking. As Federer pointed out, Rafa will play his best challengers at some point in the tournament, and if he is to win his eighth title this year, it won’t matter in which round he greets them.