The road to the 2013 French Open continues this week at the Barcelona Open. Just like the second major tournament of the season, the event takes place on clay. That could only mean one thing: Rafael Nadal is the favorite.
Nadal is the event's two-time defending champion after defeating David Ferrer for the second straight year in 2012. Ferrer is once again one of the top players hoping to knock off Nadal on the surface he's dominated throughout his career. Another championship rematch wouldn't be a surprise.
By the time the event ends, the annual trek to Roland Garros will be less than a month away. Here's a look at all the key information for the warm-up tourney, followed by a breakdown of the top players in the draw and a prediction for which player will win the title.
Where: Real Club de Tenis Barcelona; Barcelona, Spain
When: Tournament runs through Sunday, April 28
Live Stream: ESPN3.com (Starts in Round of 16)
After an extended layoff to due lingering knee issues, Nadal returned to action in February and immediately started playing a heavy schedule. He played four tournaments in five weeks and emerged no worse for wear, which is a good sign for the rest of the season.
He took a break before getting back in action last week. He reached the finals of the Monte Carlo Masters before falling to top-ranked Novak Djokovic. Despite the loss, it was another sign of progress after questions about Nadal's ability to return to the top.
Nadal has won this event seven times in the past eight years. Without Djokovic in the field, he's a heavy favorite to make it eight wins. There's simply nobody in the field capable of beating him on the surface when he's anywhere near 100 percent.
If not for Nadal, Ferrer would probably have a trophy case full of champion's hardware from the Barcelona Open. He's reached the title match four times in the past five years but was able to muster just one set against Nadal in those four meetings.
That's really been the story of Ferrer's career. He's always been consistent enough to knock off the players below him in the rankings. But when he's gone up against one of the “Big Four,” he's usually lacked the firepower necessary to come out on top.
There are no major threats in his quarter. So, in typical fashion, he should get to the business end of the tournament without many issues. Avoiding a matchup with Nadal, who already beat him in a clay final earlier in the season, is the most likely path to a title, though.
Rounding out the top contenders is another Spanish star. Almagro has always possessed the talent to be ranked in the top 10 and perhaps even win a major title. Getting over the hump through consistently elite play hasn't come easy, however.
His last tournament is a perfect example. He needed three sets to knock off David Goffin and was then eliminated by Jurgen Melzer. Those are matches he needs to win to take the next step. At 27, there's still time but not an abundance of it.
Winning a warm-up event like this, with Nadal in the field, would do wonders for Almgaro's confidence ahead of the French Open. He should survive his quarter, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure should he reach the semifinals.