Winning an eighth French Open title isn’t going to be a walk in the park for Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, the winner of the last three championships at Roland Garros, defeated Novak Djokovic in the final a year ago. A finals rematch, however, won’t be in the works in 2013.
Instead, if Nadal and Djokovic manage to win their matches through the quarterfinals, they’ll meet in a blockbuster semifinal.
The potential semifinal matchup is due to the seeding of Nadal and the withdrawal of Andy Murray from the tournament. Murray, the No. 2 player in the world behind Djokovic, is out of the French Open with a back injury, according to the Associated Press via USA Today.
Nadal, who’s ranked No. 4, earned the No. 3 seed in the French Open, and Roger Federer moved up to No. 2. This means that Nadal and Federer could face off in the final, but Nadal is going to have to get through the top player in the world first.
Nadal, though knowing he might have a big test ahead, is just glad to be able to participate.
“I am very happy that I am back and I am healthy to play here another time,” Nadal told the Associated Press, via USA Today. Nadal recently returned from a seven-month absence after a knee injury prevented him from taking the court.
Before Nadal can even think about facing Djokovic again, he first has to get there. His first-round matchup is against Daniel Brands of Germany, who will be appearing in his fifth French Open. Brands has never made it past the first round, though, and Nadal should defeat him with ease.
The first true test for Nadal could come in the quarterfinals if he were to be matched up against Richard Gasquet, the No. 7 seed at Roland Garros. Gasquet has never made it past the fourth round in nine French Opens over the course of his career. Nadal is undefeated in nine matches against Gasquet in their history.
If all goes according to plan, Nadal would then need a victory over Djokovic—if he advances to the semifinals—in order to reach the championship. Nadal has fallen to Djokovic in eight of their last 11 chances and lost just a month ago at Monte Carlo.
Nadal does have an advantage, though, considering that they’ll be playing on a clay court. Nadal is 13-3 against Djokovic on clay. But keep in mind that you should never count out Djokovic, especially before a match even starts. He is the No. 1 player for a reason.
Who Nadal could end up facing in the final is far from being determined, but it could certainly be Federer. Federer is the only other player outside of Nadal to win at the French Open since 2005, taking the title back in 2009 when Nadal fell in the fourth round to the runner-up, Robin Soderling. A Nadal-Federer final would certainly favor the Spain native, but it would likely be a close match.
Needless to say, an eighth French Open title won’t be a piece of cake for Nadal. There are plenty of opponents trying to upend the seven-time champ. He’s going to have to be on his top game, stay healthy and hope that the things fall in his favor.
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