Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain during their final match at the Rome Masters tennis tournament, May 15, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
LONDON - Rafa Nadal arrives at Roland Garros without his air of invincibility as the seemingly unstoppable Novak Djokovic threatens to flatten the Spaniard's bid to equal Bjorn Borg's six French Open titles.
The Serb's astonishing form during a 37-0 start to the year, including consecutive victories on clay for Djokovic over the world number one, means that for the first time since 2005 Nadal is not the overwhelming favourite for the claycourt slam.
Since Nadal first bounded on to the scene with muscles bulging from his cut-off shirts and pirate shorts he has, for all but one match, looked unbeatable on Parisian brickdust.
Every challenge thrown his way was answered in emphatic style as he stormed to five titles with a win loss record of 38-1, the sole defeat coming in an injury-hit 2009 against Sweden's Robin Soderling when his body betrayed him.
With Borg's record looming, however, Djokovic looks to have erected a barricade that even Nadal's formidable claycourt armoury suddenly looks ill-equipped to dismantle.
Successive victories over the Majorcan powerhouse in the finals of the Madrid and Rome Masters, having never beaten him on red dirt before, have changed the lay of the land.
In Rome, in particular, there were times when Djokovic appeared to have Nadal on the end of a piece of string, pulling him one way and another to his heart's content.
John McEnroe, the former world number one and seven-times grand slam champion, thinks Nadal must go back to the drawing board in search of a new strategy.
"I think the way he approaches matches against Djokovic he is going to have to think about changing some of the ideas he had before the last couple of matches," McEnroe, whose record 42-match win streak from the start of the year ended in the French Open final in 1984, told reporters this week.
"He has to take a few more chances, get Djokovic on the defensive a bit more, instead of letting Djokovic dictate play and banking on him missing.
"It seemed like he got pushed around a bit (in Madrid and Rome) and I'm sure his camp will go back to the drawing board.
"Nadal came off one of the greatest years in Open tennis history and now all of a sudden he finds himself befuddled and baffled at what to do when he plays against Djokovic."
The last 10 winners of the French Open men's singles title:
2001: Gustavo Kuerten (BRA)
2002: Albert Costa (ESP)
2003: Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP)
2004: Gaston Gaudio (ARG)
2005: Rafael Nadal (ESP)
2006: Rafael Nadal (ESP)
2007: Rafael Nadal (ESP)
2008: Rafael Nadal (ESP)
2009: Roger Federer (SUI)
2010: Rafael Nadal (ESP)