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French Open 2011: How Will Rafael Nadal Respond To Being Tested Early?

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the two guys you'll hear from 95% of the people watching the French Open (save for the people in Paris ... they maintain that Gael Monfils will suddenly realize his hyper-potential) in regards to who is going to go down as the winner at Roland Garros in 2011. Djokovic has now cruised to two victories, but Nadal has quite a bit of trouble in the opening round, when he took on the un-seeded American John Isner.

Isner is a tough draw in the opening round for any player, he's generally always game and his serve is among the best in tennis. Nadal, of course, is the world number one and it's technically impossible for him to not be "game" on any given day. But he had his hands full with Isner, who took the top seed into the fifth set. The final scores for the matchup were 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. It was a four-hour matchup in which Nadal could not handle Isner's serve for much of the early going.

Nadal was dominated in the tiebreaks, with Isner jumping to early 5-2 leads in both, taking advantage of Nadal's lack of confidence under pressure. It's those momentary lapses that were almost Nadal's undoing, but the way he responded to come back and win it could give him plenty of confidence going forward. In the fifth set, Isner's serve finally relented and Nadal got the single break he needed. 

His second round opponent is Pablo Andujar, and on paper, it's a lot more attractive of a matchup for Nadal than Isner was. Andujar has never been past the second round at Roland Garros, and he's sporting a 13-11 record so far in 2011. The two have never met, and in that scenario, you have to go with the King of Clay himself, Nadal. Andujar's best run of the season was winning the title in Casablanca, but he's underwhelmed in every other tournament.

The King of Clay is an apt term, though Nadal is not having the greatest 2011 campaign thus far. Of course, he's 36-6 on the year, and that, for Nadal, is a "shaky start." This start is not at all similar to his 2010 French Open outing, where Nadal coasted through the opening rounds (and really, the whole tournament). Either way, look for Nadal to regain his form against Andujar, as he has room to underperform against this opponent.