Nadal skipped the recent US Open over concerns about the event's safety, and the advantage is that he has had more time to practice on clay, whereas many of the players will be going very quickly from a hard court Grand Slam into a clay court Grand Slam. That will take some adjusting to, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a few seeds tumbling out of the competition in the early rounds as a result.
But Nadal will be perfectly poised to take advantage of such weaknesses, and the fact that he comes into the tournament fresh and focused could be a major advantage for him against some of the other top players. His biggest threat, you would feel, is Novak Djokovic, but the Serbian exited the US Open in ignominious circumstances, having struck a line judge in the throat with a ball hit in anger. It's difficult to tell whether Djokovic's default will have shaken him, or whether it will have made him even more motivated to do well in Paris.Another rival for Nadal will be Dominic Thiem, who is just off the back of his maiden Grand Slam triumph, having claimed the top prize at the US Open. Nadal has beaten Thiem in two successive French Open finals, so the Austrian clearly has what it takes to go far in the event. The question is whether Thiem has the ability to match a peak Nadal on such a stage as a Grand Slam final on clay, but the 27-year-old might just have gained that extra bit of belief from his Flushing Meadows success.
It could even prove that Nadal's long absence from the sport, which has now stretched to seven months due to the stoppage of play as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and his own unwillingness to take part in the events since, will render him rustier than he otherwise might be heading into the French Open. Tennis is a sport where momentum can be everything, and it will be interesting to see if Nadal can quickly get up to speed at the top level of the game once again.
The fact that it is such a familiar tournament and venue - one that holds so many great personal memories for Nadal - will help him quickly settle in and rediscover his touch, you would feel. The Spaniard will feel he has some making up to do for his last Grand Slam performance at the Australian Open, where he crashed out in the quarter-finals to Thiem. Now is the time, perhaps, for Nadal to take the reins once more and reassert his dominance at a tournament where he has so long reigned supreme.
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