It's hard to believe that Rafael Nadal is just twenty-six years of age when you consider the numerous achievements of his career so far. He is just one of two men, alongside the great Andre Agassi, who has the so-called "Golden Slam" to his name, with all four major trophies and an Olympic gold medal firmly under his belt. After Uncle Toni discovered the natural talent Nadal possessed for tennis, he was introduced to the game at the age of three and from this point on never looked back.
On paper, Nadal's career has been nothing but a sparkling triumph, gaining victory after victory and championship after championship. He's grasped his hands around a Grand Slam trophy eleven times and won fifty-four professional titles since he burst onto the scene back in 2005. However, when you consider the time that Nadal had taken out due to his troublesome injuries, it seems merely impossible that he has achieved so much in such a short space of time. 2009 saw Nadal suffer a shock defeat during round four of the French Open where eventual runner-up Robin Soderling ended the Spaniard's 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros. It later emerged that Nadal was suffering from tendinitis in both knees as he withdrew from the AEGON Championships and subsequently Wimbledon. 2010 was arguably one of the greatest years in tennis history as Nadal bounced back to win three of the four Grand Slams, including the illusive US Open which had denied him of the Golden Slam for so long.
While it all looked to be on the up for Nadal, it wasn't to last as his tendinitis returned during the summer of 2012. Nadal lost in the second round of Wimbledon to Lukas Rosol, a man who had failed to progress past the first qualifying round in his previous five Wimbledon Championships. It was evident that something was wrong. After pulling out of both the Rogers Cup and the Cincinnati Masters, it was announced that the injury had reoccurred and consequently it led to his withdrawal in the US Open. He barely played competitively for the rest of the year and a chest infection ruled him out of the Australian Open in January 2013.
With the French Open now rapidly approaching, Nadal has participated in several tournaments in order to gain the fitness and match practice necessary. He made his comeback in the 2013 VTR Open in Chile where he advanced to the final failing to drop a set, however he was stunned by the world number 73 Zeballos who was crowned the champion. Nadal then went on to claim victories in Brazil and Acapulco before defeating the likes of Federer and Del Potro at the Indian Wells Masters. The Spaniard continued on, but failed to win the Monte-Carlo Masters despite making his ninth consecutive final at the location, falling short to Novak Djokovic, the world number one, in straight sets. More recently, a win in Barcelona secured Nadal his fourth title of the season, currently leaving him in good stead for the approaching Slam in France. If his form continues, he may well prevail in Paris and emerge triumphant on 9th June.
Nadal's record at the French Open is the best in history and he has only ever been defeated once at the prestigious destination (named after French legend Roland Garros). His success at the tournament first kicked off in 2005 where he, most notably, defeated Roger Federer on his nineteenth birthday before going on to beat the Argentine Mariano Puerta in the final two days later. This stimulated a further three victories in the next three years taking his tally of French Open titles to four at the age of just twenty-two. In 2010, Nadal raced to the title once again and added two more French Open championships in 2011 and 2012. There is no doubt that clay is his favoured surface and the Spaniard's history in this tournament suggests that he's in with a real shot of a twelfth Grand Slam before the summer.
Standing in his way, are the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray who will be eager for more success after their phenomenal accomplishments last year. Djokovic has won the previous two Australian Opens as well as the 2013 Dubai Tennis Championship. Furthermore, as recently as last week, Nadal was defeated by the Serb in the final of the Monte-Carlo Masters providing the latter with the upper hand as the pair head into the French Open. World number three Andy Murray also looks a threat and, despite maintaining a close relationship with Nadal, will be hoping to spoil the Spanish party while competing at Roland Garros. The Brit earned his first Grand Slam title in Florida last September and made the Australian Open final back in January, beating Federer on the way but narrowing losing out to Djokovic in the final. Despite this loss, at the end of March Murray held his nerve in Miami to beat David Ferrer and take the title placing him, like Djokovic, in a strong position heading into the second major of the year. Nadal may have beaten Murray on all four occasions they've faced one another on clay, however the Scot will be out for revenge and both players hungry for silverware. The potential is there for a heavily-contested encounter and it could very well be Murray who stops Nadal in his quest for an eighth French Open.
As we can see, the challenge facing Nadal is rather large, however it certainly isn't impossible to overcome. The past has demonstrated his ability to dominate, particularly on these Parisian Courts, and to further this point Nadal's recent form proves that he has the potential needed to go all the way. His sheer determination, accompanied by the absolute passion that's evident in his game, is enough to guide him right through to the final and that fearless, focused and fantastic nature he possess fills his fans with confidence that he can do the job and secure yet another French Open title.