The players who turn out at Roland Garros every year, despite the best preparation, are aware of the fact that it's more of a formality. While there is cut-throat competition in other Grand Slams, French Open is a major which Rafael Nadal has made his own. Year after year, the Spaniard, who won his first title there at the age of 19, has made a mockery of world-class tennis players on Paris clay.
In the last ten years, Rafa has lost just one match at the French Open, against Robin Soderling in a grilling encounter where he struggled due to poor physical fitness. That was six years ago and since then, the 14-time Grand Slam champion has taken his dominance at the French Open to a different level.
But this year, considering his inexplicable poor form on clay, for the first time in a decade, Nadal isn't the favourite to win the second Grand Slam of the year.
This is the first time Nadal arrives in Paris without a European ATP World Tour clay court title. He has had five losses on clay this year, the last in straight sets against Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarterfinal of the Italian Open. As per a very interesting stat, between 2006 and 2010, Nadal had been at the receiving end on clay only on four occasions. That shows how badly he has struggled on his favourite surface this year.
While there are other contenders to challenge Rafa's dominance at the tournament, Novak Djokovic, who has been on the receiving end in all the six matches these two have played at Roland Garros, is the clear favourite to win the only major trophy eluding his cabinet.
Unlike Rafa, Djokovic has been in red-hot form this year where he has lost just two matches and is currently on a 22-match winning streak. If Nole wins his maiden French Open title, he’ll become just the fourth man in the Open Era to win all four Slams, joining Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Nadal.
He was close to achieving the feat in 2011, where he won three quarters of a calendar-year grand slam, but his dreams were shattered by Federer, who knocked him out in the semi-final of the French Open. In 2012, while he was defeated by Nadal in a controversial rain-interrupted match, the Serb surrendered a 4-2 fifth-set advantage to the Spaniard in the 2013 semi-finals. Last year was no different as Nadal beat Djokovic in four sets.
However, this year, Djokovic has the best chance to grab his slice of history. While his rival continues to battle physical and mental fitness, Nole has the best chance to further strengthen his case for being the world's best tennis player in the modern era.
Much to the dismay of the Rafa fans, the Spaniard has been seeded seventh in the tournament, which means a possible quarter-final clash with Djokovic, Andy Murray or Federer. To shut the critics up, Nadal will have to pull off a miracle to win his 10th French Open title.
In the last ten years, Nadal has made life miserable for other players with his powerful play and heavy topspin at the Roland Garros, as a result of which several opponents have bitten the dust. The Spaniard might have failed to deliver on clay this year, but writing him off would be the last thing going through the minds of his opponents.