Rafael Nadal has had a great 2013 season since returning from injury and illness, and with only two losses on the year, he hasn't been tested much. That changed on Friday thanks to a hard-fought match against countryman David Ferrer, which should set Rafa up for success at the French Open.
According to BBC Sport, Nadal outlasted his fellow Spaniard in three sets; 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-0. Nadal clearly wasn't at his best early in the match as he dropped the first set and had to will his way through the second, but he ultimately found his footing and made sure he put Ferrer away in the third.
After the match Nadal was fully aware that he didn't play to the best of his capabilities. He even suggested that the better player didn't come out on top, according to Carole Bouchard of L'Equipe.
Perhaps Ferrer played a better all-around match on Friday, but the most important thing is coming away with a victory. It's great for Nadal to win a match of any kind at this point after missing seven months with knee tendinitis, but rolling past inferior players won't do much for him in the long run.
Ferrer may not be at the same level as Nadal, but he is currently the No. 4 player in the world and is excellent on clay. Most expected Nadal to walk through the competition en route to a Madrid Open title, but Ferrer gave him all he could handle and may have ensured that Rafa will be focused moving forward.
Nadal has played in six tournaments this season and he has made the finals in all of them. Rafa also has four titles to his credit, so he hasn't had to deal with much adversity. Ferrer tested him in a big way, though, and now Nadal knows that he is capable of winning matches even if he isn't playing his best tennis.
Had Nadal beaten lesser players in straight sets throughout the Madrid Open, perhaps he wouldn't have been fully prepared for the French Open. His opponents will be trying that much harder to knock him off at Roland Garros, so he'll need to be ready for anything. There will probably be at least one French Open match in which he'll have to battle from start to finish and grind out a victory, much like he did against Ferrer.
Unfortunately Nadal won't have another big challenge on his hands in the semifinals as Roger Federer was upset by Kei Nishikori. Pablo Andujar then upset Nishikori in the quarters, so Nadal will face the Spanish qualifier in the semifinals.
Nadal won't let his guard down after such a tough match against Ferrer, so expect him to take care of Andujar and ultimately roll to a Madrid Open title. Nadal has won so many titles on clay that one more probably won't do much for him from a confidence standpoint. That win over Ferrer should be extremely meaningful moving forward, however.
Rafa is arguably the greatest clay-court player in tennis history; he is always a threat to win the French. In fact, he has won at Roland Garros in seven of the past eight years. Having won the French Open so many times, though, it has to be difficult for him to keep up his intensity level. His win over Ferrer should serve as inspiration to do so.
Tennis fans certainly remember Nadal's most recent Grand Slam match as he was ousted in the second round of Wimbledon last year by Lukas Rosol. Nadal's injury was obviously a big reason for that loss, but complacency may have had something to do with it as well. Now that Nadal has been tested, that shouldn't be an issue this year.
Nadal is playing great tennis in 2013 and he is finding a number of different ways to win as well. Rafa figures to be on top of his game at the French Open, but even if he isn't, his win over Ferrer proves that he can triumph anyway.
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