French Open 2014: Top Contenders to End Rafael Nadal's Reign at Roland Garros

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2014

Spain's Rafael Nadal returns a backhand to Britain's Andy Murray during their match at the Italian open tennis tournament in Rome, Friday, May 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

To say Rafael Nadal has dominated the French Open in the past decade would be an epic understatement, like saying Napoleon had a modest empire or that the Boston Celtics were pretty good when Red Auerbach was the coach.

Nadal has won eight of the last nine titles at Roland Garros, a stretch of dominance that is hard to fathom. The man is a master on clay, and he'll head into this year's French Open a resounding favorite to win his ninth title at the tournament.

Paul-Henri Mathieu, who lost to Nadal in 2006, told Guillaume Willecoq of RolandGarros.com about how difficult it was playing him in the French Open:

The depth on Centre Court give you so much space behind the baseline that it’s extremely difficult to get past him as he has so much room to run, get his racquet round the ball and find different angles on defence. Attacking shots end up being returned more often than they are from elsewhere on the court, in particularly from way back. You have to try again two, three, four times just to win a point. And of course you can’t make any mistakes, and you can’t go too far behind the baseline otherwise you’ll end up running left and right… The depth of Centre Court benefits defenders more than attackers, and so yes, it definitely plays in his favour.

So, can anyone end Nadal's reign of terror this year?

You might think the most likely player to beat him at Roland Garros is Roger Federer, who won the tournament in 2009 and was the runner-up in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011. But not only has Nadal won the last five matches between the two players, he also holds a 13-2 advantage on clay courts (and of course, a 23-10 advantage overall). 

If they cross paths, it's hard to imagine Federer winning this one.

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What about Andy Murray?

Murray and Nadal haven't faced off much in recent years, but the former has taken two of the last three matchups. Still, it was Nadal who just beat Murray in the Italian Open, buoyed by this key moment, as shared by Tennis TV:

Nadal is now 5-0 all time against Murray on clay, so it's hard to see Murray putting a dent in his Roland Garros reign. 

Could a surprise player emerge to beat Nadal? Perhaps. David Ferrer reached the French Open final last year and has beaten him twice in their last three matchups, including on clay in Monte Carlo. But overall, Ferrer has beaten his fellow Spaniard just six times in 27 tries, so he still feels like a long shot.

Stanislas Wawrinka beat Nadal in the final of the Australian Open this season and has put together a strong campaign, going 20-4 on the year with three titles, so folks might like his chances. But it's important to note that he's beaten Nadal just once in 13 tries and obviously never on clay.

So that leaves one man with a chance to beat Nadal—the obvious choice, the world No. 2 and arguably Nadal's biggest rival in the game today: Novak Djokovic. 

ROME, ITALY - MAY 16:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia in action against David Ferrer of Spain during day six of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia tennis 2014 on May 16, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Djokovic has won four straight matches against Nadal, including a key win in the Italian Open final. He hasn't had a ton of success against him on clay, but he has beaten him four times on the surface in 17 tries. He's reached nine of the last 14 Grand Slam finals, winning five of them. He stylistically can combat Nadal's speed and relentlessness. 

Djokovic is one tournament away from a career Grand Slam, and at some point you have to think a player will emerge to interrupt Nadal's dominance at Roland Garros. Why not Djokovic?

If not him, than who? It's a hard question to answer, mostly because Nadal has completely owned the famous tournament. For the moment, there doesn't seem to be a Waterloo in sight for him at Roland Garros. 


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