May 16, 2013
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You do not want to face Rafael Nadal right now. And you most certainly do not want to meet him on a clay court at Roland Garros.
After a disappointing and injury-shortened 2012 season, Nadal has hit the ground running in 2013.
He has already won five singles titles (Madrid Open, Barcelona Open, BNP Paribas Open, Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Brasil Open) and boasts a sparkling 31-2 record heading into Thursday's match against Ernests Gulbis. He's reached the final in all seven tournaments he's played in.
Nadal has also beaten every elite player he's faced this season—including a win over Roger Federer and two over David Ferrer—with the exception of a loss to Novak Djokovic at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.
Oh, and he's also won eight of the last nine French Open titles, with only Federer's win in 2009 interrupting Nadal's stranglehold of the event since 2005.
Plus, the field won't be quite as strong as usual for the event. Federer took a two-month hiatus this season and still looks rusty. Andy Murray is unlikely to play at Roland Garros. Djokovic has never won the event, though he did reach the final last year.
It just appears as though the Red Sea is opening up in front of Nadal, leading him to the promised land of his ninth French Open title.
This isn't the Nadal of old, of course, not exactly. Nadal spent seven months on the sideline, recovering from a knee injury, and his famous defense as he darts from one side of the court to the other may be somewhat more limited this year as he continues to recuperate.
But Nadal has always been more than speed (though, yes, his ability to cover ground on a clay court is the stuff of legend). He's a cerebral player that adjusts his game and finds new ways to beat opponents, even if Federer is always praised as the more flexible and versatile player.
Frankly, given the way he's played this year, I think he should be seriously feared at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open as well. While Djokovic will have eyes for sweeping the Grand Slams this year, Nadal has been playing well enough to steal the last three of the year.
If nothing else, that should make the last two Grand Slams of the year a lot of fun, with Murray hopefully healthy again and Federer back in form.
It should once again be a fun season among the Big Four this year. But when it comes to the French Open—well, that's a title I just don't see Nadal relinquishing this year.
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