Here's a look at some of the main contenders to topple the Spaniard at the 2014 French Open, and how I think they'll ultimately fare at the second Grand Slam event of the year:
There's only one place to start here, and that's with the world number two, who will arrive in Paris this year feeling he's got a better chance than ever before of completing his Grand Slam collection. One of the defining moments of the 2013 season saw Djokovic slide into the net on Philippe Chatrier in the process of putting away a routine smash while leading by a break in the 5th set. The Serb has lost to Nadal on five of his nine visits to Roland Garros, but has never come closer to toppling the Spaniard than last year. Having won their last four clashes, including a comeback win in the final of the Rome Masters, though, Novak will feel more than ever that he can get the job done if he meets Rafa in the final for what would be their 42nd meeting.
My Prediction: I really feel that this is Novak's year to become the new French Open Champion.
Wawrinka arrives in Paris this year as a Grand Slam winner for the first time, having also picked up his first Masters 1000 crown on the clay of Monte Carlo a few weeks ago. After his success in the principality, many people felt that the 'Stanimal' would be a real contender throughout the rest of the clay swing, but early losses in Madrid and Rome leave question marks over his Roland Garros credentials. Still, the Swiss star has historically preferred playing on the red stuff more than any other surface, and if he plays to his very best, I really feel he can beat anyone here.
My Prediction: If Stan avoids an early defeat and is still around in the second week, I think he'll make the Semi-Finals.
It speaks volumes about Rafa's dominance on clay that my third most likely pick to beat him at the French is a man who has lost to him five times in a row on the Philippe Chatrier court. If these two do meet in the last four, the odds will be stacked against Federer, who hasn't beaten his great rival at a major since the 2007 Wimbledon final, but I still feel Roger has played some great tennis this year and with a bit more hunger in the finals he contended at Indian Wells and Monte Carlo, could be leading the race so far in 2014. With Federer's quarter-final opponent likely to be one of Murray, Berdych, Ferrer or Raonic, he'll be favourite to reach the last four this year.
My Prediction: I think Federer will get his 2014 campaign back on track here. After building momentum in the early stages I think it'll take either Djokovic or Nadal to knock him out here. Semi-Finals.
Like Wawrinka, the Scot will be competing at Roland Garros for the first time as a grand slam champion, a multiple one at that. Murray's career on clay has been notoriously poor, never reaching a main tour final on this surface, and never beating Nadal or Djokovic either. He came very close to changing that in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters, if he can emulate the level of performance he showed in parts of that match, and translate that into a full five set clash, he could possibly cause an upset. It's a long shot, but the first British Wimbledon champion in 77 years knows better than anyone that records are there to be broken.
My Prediction: With Murray's clay court credentials somewhat lacking, it would be ambitious to predict anything more than a Quarter-Final run.
The Spanish Terrier is perhaps a slightly controversial inclusion in this list, given that the four men he accompanies are all Grand Slam champions, but I feel Ferrer deserves a mention in this list. I genuinely believe that if the Spanish number two meets Rafa before the final, he has a genuine shot at his compatriot, having beaten him on clay for the first time in 10 years at Monte Carlo, and having posted consistently impressive results throughout the clay swing. Ferrer is one of few players on tour who's chances aren't affected too badly by the switch from best of 3 to best of 5 set matches too.
My Prediction: A final run will be very difficult for David to emulate this year, with a kind run he could reach the last four, but the smart money is on him exiting the tournament at the Quarter-Final stage.
Have Your Say
Feel I should have left someone out? Included a Nishikori or a Raonic? Have your say on who you think has the best chance of toppling Nadal at Roland Garros in the poll and comments section below.
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