The build up towards the Roland Garros (with three Masters preceding it) is much more significant as compared to the Australian open and Wimbledon. Even US Open build up falls short in this regard. Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome (in that order) set the tone for the only Grand Slam on clay....the slow, red clay. And when you say clay, u inevitably say Rafael Nadal - 11 time Grand Slam Champion but also 7 time French Open champion, 8 time Monte Carlo champion, 7 time victor in Rome and also 3 times in Madrid. These are outrageous results by any standard considering that three of these tournaments are Masters 1000 and one a Grand Slam. Every year the anticipation grows high in regard to a potential challenge or upset of Rafa; ending in the same fashion (except in 2009) with Nadal biting the trophy. Let's look at MC, Madrid and Rome as they happened in 2013 and if they in any way are the sign of things to come.
All red clay is Rafa Nadal's marked terrotory but Monte Carlo all the more. He hasn't lost here since 2004 and has bitten the trophy eight times. Roger Federer generally does not enter this tournament, 2013 was the same. However, the reigning World No 1 Novak Djokovic has showed clear intentions to challenge Rafa at Monte Carlo in the past few years. He lives and practices in MC and has been looking to usurp Rafa's dominance. He did not play in 2011 (his by far the best year in professional tennis), lost to Nadal in the final in 2012 (lost his grand father the same week) but comes back and outplays Nadal on all counts in the 2013 final to take the trophy. This is huge! Novak Djokovic once again proves he can better Nadal on clay and though he came close to winning the French Open in 2012; he still don't have it - making it his primary goal of the season. From Nadal's perspective, it must have been a bit denting in terms of confidence to again lose to Djokovic. This result had build the hopes of all people across the world who wants to see someone else lifting the trophy other than Nadal. However, the contest did not repeat in Madrid and Rome. The very talented Grigor Dimitrov pulled and inspired performance to send Djokovic packing early in Madrid. Result, Rafa goes on to win the title easily. In Rome, Berdych gets the better of Djokovic and Nadal happily whipped and thrashed Federer once again to win Rome. Kind of a dud for people looking to see more of Nadal vs Djokovic, i feel. This changes equations going in to the 2013 French Open.
Rafael Nadal is the favourite once again going in the tournament. Novak Djokovic the only real challenger. Djokovic can beat Nadal if they face but can he beat all the others before to gain the right to face Rafa in the semifinals. Andy Murray has never been in the mix of contenders for the French Open and he rightly pulls out due to an injury to recover for Wimbledon - where he's more of a threat. That leaves only Roger Federer from the big four. He's still a class act but he is not in his prime, and he's 32. Rome final showed us once again that the odds of him beating Rafa on clay are now unreal. However, he is still the second best clay courter of the past decade and he this time gets an easier draw with Nadal and Djokovic in the other half. His moment can come if he makes it to the final and has somebody other than Nadal on the other side - even Djokovic.
But with all speculations, it's still Nadal and Djokovic who are front runners with Federer a far third in the title race. Let's enjoy the game!