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2013 French Open: Nadal Leads Favorites for the Men's Title

Can Anyone Stop the King of Clay?

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COMMENTARY I It's hard to believe that the last time Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer played in the same slam was at Wimbledon last year. Nadal's absence from the game, and a shift in rankings, opened up doors for a few others last year, including Andy Murray who won his first Grand Slam. But, things are slowly getting back on course with the Spaniard's return.

With the exception of Roger Federer's lone win in 2009, it's been Rafael Nadal who has ruled the clay in Paris for the past eight years. If you were to call the odds on a winner, It would be tough to place your bet against the Spaniard who will be going for a record 8th title.

At the beginning of the year, Nadal's comeback wasn't quite as brightly forecasted as it is right now. The 26-year-old has now re-entered the top four in the world after a few successful tournaments, and the odds have quickly shifted.

If there's anyone who has surprised us this year, it's Rafael Nadal. Coming off an injury and erasing the "what ifs" etched into the back of everyone's mind, Nadal put his critics to a halt. In the eight events that he's played since his comeback, he's reached just as many finals, and won six of them. After being off the tournament track for more than six months, there can't be a more impressive comeback than his. Put that together with the fact that Nadal is the King of Clay, and you better bet that he is the top favorite to win the title.

After sweeping past Federer in their encounter in Rome, and only dropping four games, it's pretty safe to say that Nadal has already made a name for himself as the odds-on-favorite for the last clay tournament of the year. Coming back into the top four only helped increase his chances at a more favorable draw, and heightened expectations.

The next contender for the title right behind Nadal is Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 player in the world. Yes, he has over a 5,000 point lead on Nadal in the rankings, but that doesn't mean much when it comes to the clay in Paris. Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam that eludes him. By winning in Paris, Djokovic will pin a career Grand Slam into his record books by winning all four majors.

The Serbian, whose record spells out that his best surface is a hard court, has only won eight clay court titles in his career. But, that doesn't take away from the success he's had at the French Open. He's reached the quarterfinals or better six out of eight times since his debut in 2005. He took a set off of the rather invincible Nadal in last year's final, and with his domination of the men's ladder, will be the main contender to chase Nadal for the title. He and Nadal are on track to meet in the semifinals if all goes according to the draw. There is no denying that Djokovic can take it - he is at the top of the leaderboard for an undeniable reason.

Many were shocked by Roger Federer's quick defeat to Nadal in Rome when he fell to the Spaniard in just over an hour while winning only four games en route to his loss. The real question is if Federer can keep up with Nadal and Djokovic in winning a slam in the near future. If he is to have a chance at winning any slam, it's safe to say that his best chances don't lie at Roland Garros. Center court is all too familiar to Federer who reached the final there on five occasions - four losses coming in the hands of Nadal. The Swiss' only win was when he took out surprise finalist Robin Soderling in 2009. Given his record, Federer needs to steer clear of any clash with Nadal to have a stab at the title this year.

With Tomas Berdych, who lost in the first round, out of the picture, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are the top two contenders that have been fondling with the Big Four (Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, and Andy Murray) for a chance at a Grand Slam. Waiting for a collapse of the superiors, and a chance at their own success, the two have been hovering around the top four like hawks for the past couple of years.

Ferrer, the true definition of a grinder, has won half of his career titles on clay. Undoubtedly, the terre battue is where the Spaniard feels at home. One of the hardest working men in tennis, Ferrer doesn't hand anything lightly to his opponents. He's reached the semifinals or better in every slam apart from Wimbledon. It would be interesting to see how he would react to being in his first big-time final if it were to happen on clay, a surface he's more than comfortable with physically.

Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, is the highest-ranked men's player from the country, and will be carrying the hopes of the nation on his shoulders. Seeded behind Berdych, the hard-hitting 28-year-old, who hails from Le Mans, is on course to meet Roger Federer in the semifinals if all goes according to plan. Not many people have been talking about Tsonga who made a quarterfinal run last year, before falling to Djokovic in five. Once a Grand Slam finalist, Tsonga will be looking to quietly creep his way into the second week of the draw.

With Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro out of tournament due to injuries and illness, and the recent success of these top players, who do you think will be the winner of 2013 French Open crown? Will we see a new victor in Paris?

Olivia Glinka covers on-court and off-court tennis news as a blogger and writer. You can read her content on One Stop Tennis.

Get the latest tennis scoop by following her on Twitter @OneStopTennis

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