Vulnerable Nadal facing fight for claycourt crown
PARIS (Reuters) - For the first time in nearly a decade Rafa Nadal, the undisputed king of clay, will walk into Roland Garros this weekend facing legitimate claims to his French Open crown.
When he arrived in Paris a decade ago looking as though he had just bounded straight off a Mallorcan beach it heralded the start of an unprecedented era of dominance.
A record nine titles followed as left-hander Nadal buried many an ego under Parisian brick dust.
Approaching his 29th birthday though and with major questions about his form and confidence, talk of "end of eras" is not just the usual pre-tournament hyperbole.
World number one Novak Djokovic has been supreme throughout this year and is the clear favorite to claim the only grand slam title to elude the Serb.
And there are others circling too.
Briton Andy Murray, who learned his craft on Spanish claycourts but had never won a title on the surface before back-to-back successes in Munich and Madrid this year, has thrust himself into contention.
Seventeen-times grand slam champion Roger Federer, for whom Nadal has been a recurring claycourt nightmare, will think a second French Open title is achievable, while Japan's Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka, David Ferrer and even home favorite Gael Monfils will have roles to play in what promises to be the most open men's title chase for years.
Defending champion Nadal will be seeded seventh, meaning a possible quarter-final clash with Djokovic, Murray or Federer, so if he is to notch up a 15th grand slam title it would arguably be his greatest achievement to date. Continued...