With nine tournaments, nine finals and an eighth French Open title to his name, Rafael Nadal has been nothing short of remarkable in 2013.
Now, after battling back from seven months off the court with ailing knees, the "King of Clay" has set himself up for a monumental season in pursuit of even more Grand Slam hardware.
Nadal bested David Ferrer in straight sets at the French Open Sunday on the heels of a long, difficult match against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, further proving his tremendous Grand Slam season is just getting started.
Rafa looked shaky at times throughout the tournament, but as he has done so many times at Roland Garros, the world No. 4 got progressively stronger as his competition got tougher. When all was said and done, Nadal had put the exclamation point on a record-setting eighth French Open title and set the stage for what could be the best season he has ever recorded.
As SportsCenter tweeted, Nadal became the first player to win eight titles at a Grand Slam event with his win on Sunday:
After withdrawing from the Australian Open with a stomach virus, Nadal roared back with six wins in his first eight events of the year, posting wins over Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Ferrer and Djokovic in the process.
With tremendous success to start the year, it was almost assured Rafa would storm into the finals at Roland Garros facing little resistance. Even with the No. 1 player in the world potentially standing in the way of an eighth title, few doubted Nadal’s chances.
Djokovic wore him thin in the semifinals in a five-plus-hour, five-set Nadal victory, but by the time the dust had settled, Ferrer was simply another small obstacle standing in Rafa’s way. After three short sets in the finals, Nadal had proved that point.
With the win at Roland Garros, it’s only natural to start looking ahead to what is on the horizon for Rafa as Wimbledon approaches. It’s been three years since the King of Clay built on a French Open title with another Grand Slam victory, but it’s also been at least that long since Nadal looked as crisp, healthy and dominant as he did at Roland Garros this year.
In 2010, Rafa used his fifth French Open title as a springboard to wins at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open—two tournaments the world No. 4 hasn’t won since that season. In 2011, he reached the finals in both tournaments only to enter 2012 facing some big questions.
The biggest of which involved the health of his knees.
Nadal’s knees may still bother him at times, but he showed no indication of that in his impressive French Open run. By all indications, Rafa looked like the same player who recorded three Grand Slam wins in 2010 and nearly notched a fourth if not for a quarterfinals withdrawal at the Australian Open that year.
With Nadal as healthy as we’ve seen him in three years—and as dominant—it’s hard to envision a scenario in which he doesn’t cruise into Wimbledon and the U.S. Open with confidence in his pocket and Grand Slam victories in mind. The doubt has dried up.
Even if both players were at their best right now, Nadal’s French Open victory is enough to suggest that neither would have a chance of upending his bid for a couple more Grand Slam titles in 2013.