With top-10 men's tennis stars like Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro set to sit out the 2013 French Open, the path to an eighth career Grand Slam title at Roland Garros is opening up for reigning champion Rafael Nadal.
Boasting a ridiculous 52-1 overall singles record on the Paris clay, Nadal has been as close to unbeatable as a player can be at one venue. His seven titles in eight years are simply jaw-dropping, and based on what we've seen from him thus far in 2013, he won't be content until he wins an eighth.
With Nadal set to take the court as an overwhelming favorite this May, here we'll break down the biggest challengers to his throne.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has to be considered the biggest threat to Rafael Nadal in Paris this summer. The top-ranked Serb reached the final at Roland Garros a year ago, falling to Rafa in four sets, but is looking capable of springing an upset at times.
Even more telling, Djokovic is 3-3 against Nadal in their last six clay-court meetings, which includes a straight-sets win in the Monte Carlo Masters final last month.
Much like Roger Federer during his prime, Djokovic is an all-court superstar whose game translates to each and every surface. Add in the 26-year-old's relentless style and you have Nadal's greatest threat in Paris this summer.
While it remains to be seen how deep he will go, one thing is for certain: Djokovic's brilliant backhand and exceptional movement will make him Rafa's biggest concern at the 2013 French Open.
Top-ranked Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is 0-2 all-time against Nadal on clay, but he has won two of their past three meetings on other surfaces dating back to 2011.
In Tsonga's most recent encounter with the King of Clay in Monte Carlo, he showed a ton of improvement, giving Nadal all he could handle in the second set of a straight-sets loss in the semifinals. Tsonga pushed Rafa to a second-set tiebreaker, ultimately losing 3-7.
At age 28, Tsonga is in the midst of his prime. Time is running out for the 2008 Australian Open finalist to add a Grand Slam title to his resume, and considering he reached the quarterfinal of the French Open a year ago and will have the crowd behind him again this summer, it's seemingly now or never.
A fellow Spaniard and clay-court specialist, David Ferrer always seems to play Nadal tough.
Although the 31-year-old Ferrer has dropped all three of his meetings with Nadal in 2013, he's pushed Rafa to the limit in their two most recent matchups on clay.
In the quarterfinals of Madrid, Ferrer won the opening set 6-4 and pushed Nadal to a tiebreaker in the second set. Ferrer would lose the tiebreaker 3-7 before going on to drop the final set 0-6.
In the quarterfinals of Rome, Ferrer dropped the opening set to Rafa 4-6 before battling back to even the match, winning the second set 6-4. He would lose the match after losing the final set 2-6, but the outcome was certainly in doubt at times.
Ferrer's persistence and agility make him a tough out on the red stuff for anyone, even for an all-time great like Nadal.
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