When Rafael Nadal limped out of Wimbledon last year, many tennis fans feared for the future of the mercurial young Spaniard. A long-term knee injury had finally forced Nadal to seek treatment, but following seven months off the court, Nadal will return to Grand Slam tennis next week in Paris.
The Spanish legend has made a remarkable return to the game over the last couple of months and he will start the French Open as the clear favorite to lift the Roland Garros title for a remarkable eighth time.
Nadal is already known as the greatest clay-court player of all time, and the latest European swing has done little to dampen his reputation. He swept aside Roger Federer in the Rome final Sunday to pick up his 24th Masters title as he once again proved himself to be on a different level when it comes to the "red stuff."
However, one man who has proven to be too strong for Nadal recently is Novak Djokovic, who defeated the Spaniard in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters in April. That day, it was Djokovic who was too strong and fast for Nadal, but the world No. 1 has been below par in the two tournaments since, the Madrid Open and Italian Open, going out in the second round and quarterfinal, respectively.
Such lack of recent form could count against him in Paris and whilst Djokovic is arguably the best all-round player currently, clay remains his weakest surface with the French Open the only Slam that currently eludes the Serb. He will need to be at his very best if he is to trouble Nadal at Roland Garros and end the wait to complete the quartet of Grand Slam victories.
It is impossible to talk about a tennis Grand Slam without mentioning Roger Federer, who is of course a former French Open champion in his own right. In truth, though, it is hard to see Federer beating either Nadal or Djokovic over five sets on clay, which would rule the Swiss legend out.
Another player to draw a line through is Andy Murray, who will miss the tournament with a lower-back injury, and he now faces a race against time to be ready for Wimbledon.
One player who might be worth keeping an eye on is Tomas Berdych, who has had wins over both Murray and Djokovic to his name so far this spring. The big Czech player has the power to match anyone on his day, although more often than not he is likely to come up short against the likes of Nadal on clay. He could still go a long way in the tournament.
Predictions for the ladies' title is also dominated by one player and that is, of course, Serena Williams.
The world No. 1 has once again proven to be the best player by some distance on the clay-court swing, with the American out to claim her 16th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.
There is, however, one note of caution surrounding Williams and it is that she has only ever won the French Open on one occasion. Her sole Paris success came back in 2002, while she has only gotten past the quarterfinals once since, which does indicate that Williams may struggle to string seven victories together on the clay.
Maria Sharapova is the defending champion and is always dangerous, while Victoria Azarenka is a Grand Slam champion in her own right and shouldn’t be ruled out after winning the Australian Open back in January for a second year running.
However, Li Na is the prediction, bearing in mind she was the champion at Roland Garros two years ago. Li went all the way to the Australian Open final earlier in the year before coming up short against Azarenka but can avenge that loss with victory in Paris.
1 - Rafa Nadal to win the men's title
2 - Tomas Berdych to reach the semifinal
3 - Serena Williams will not win the ladies' title
4 - Li Na to win the ladies' title
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