Putting forth the notion that Rafael Nadal isn't the overwhelming favorite at every tournament during the clay-court season, especially the French Open, would have been utter heresy until last year. After all, Nadal on clay was the closest embodiment of a sure thing that exists in sports. He has won six of the last seven French titles and is roundly considered the greatest player to toil on the dirt in the modern era.
But the explosive emergence, and then complete dominance, of Novak Djokovic over the last 17 months has so altered the tennis landscape that even fierce Nadal partisans have to admit that the man from Mallorca cannot be considered the French Open favorite this spring.
As the clay-court season begins this week in Monte Carlo, arguably the most scenic tennis setting in the world, Nadal will be the one feeling the pressure. A lot of pressure.
Even last year, after losing decisively to Djokovic in two Masters Series finals in the lead-up to Paris, Nadal never felt too anxious in the French Open because he didn't have to face Djokovic. Roger Federer took care of that when he upset Djokovic in the semis.