Rafael Nadal enters French Open seeking record eighth title

Rafael Nadal is seeking his eigth French Open title. (USATSI)

With seven French Open titles to his name, Rafael Nadal heads into Sunday’s tournament as the prohibitive favorite. 

The Spaniard is 36-2 this season, and he’s reached the finals in all eight of the tournaments he’s entered this year. He’s also if not the best, among the elite clay court players in the world, often overpowering opponents as they struggle to maintain their footing. 

"I am enjoying every moment, and eight finals in a row is wonderful," Nadal said to the Associated Press.

The best chance for dethroning Nadal -- and likely the best potential pairing, anyway -- could happen in the semifinals, where Nadal was slated to meet Novak Djokovic, the top seed and currently the world’s No. 1. 

Nadal enters as the No. 3 seed, a lower-than-expected ranking which is due to the seven months he took off to let his knees recover. He only recently returned in February.  

The two met in last year’s French Open final, where Nadal earned his seventh French title, giving him the most all-time. Despite that win, Djokovic has beaten Nadal this season on a clay surface. 

Last month at the Monte Carlo Masters -- a tournament Nadal had won eight consecutive times -- Djokovic took down the previous champion 6-2, 7-6. 

Of the 11 times the two have met since 2011, Djokovic has won eight of them. 

England’s Andy Murray, the world’s No. 2 player, was forced to withdraw from the tournament citing a back injury. His absence could boost the chances of the potentially massive semifinal match. 

The only other significant contender would be Roger Federer, who earned a fortuitous bracket and could see the winner of Nadal-Djokovic in the final. 

Clay isn’t Federer’s best surface, but his route, which could see him face David Ferrer in the semifinals, is significantly easier than either of the other two contenders. Federer is 14-0 in his career against Ferrer, the tournament’s No. 4 seed. 

Should Federer reach the final and face his longtime rival Nadal, the Swiss star would be the heavy underdog. Nadal has recently had Federer's number, winning 13 of the last 15 matches on clay courts.   

For more, follow Mike Singer on Twitter @RealMikeSinger. 

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