Nicolas Almagro is in the midst of an impressive run in the 2012 French Open, but his quest for a title will end Wednesday at the hands of Rafael Nadal.
After earning a straight-set victory over Janko Tipsarevic, Almagro, the No. 12 seed in the tournament, advanced to the quarterfinals for the third time to set up a contest with Nadal, for the third time.
The 26-year-old Spaniard has made fairly quick work of his opposition so far in the competition, winning every set in his first three matches. Against the No. 8 seed Tipsarevic, Almagro recorded nine aces, four of which came in the first set, en route to a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win.
Including matches leading up to the French Open, Almagro currently holds an eight-match winning streak that he hopes to extend by pulling off a major upset against Nadal, the heavy favorite to capture his seventh French Open title.
Do not count on it. Almagro can give his fellow countryman a tough fight, but he will inevitably lose to Nadal, just like he did in 2008 and 2010.
Perhaps he is staying polite and saying the right things to the media, but Nadal does not appear to be overlooking his opponent with thoughts of a potential contest against Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer in the distance. Nadal, often labeled the "King of Clay," recognized that Almagro is not too shabby on the soil either, describing him as "the man on clay."
In 2012, Almagro lived up to Nadal's moniker, winning a leading 28 matches on clay while only suffering six defeats. So why can't Almagro shock the world and beat Nadal?
In layman's terms, Nadal is too good. He has only lost at Roland Garros once during a seven-year stretch and is one title shy of setting the record for most first-place finishes at the event. After decimating Argentine Juan Monaco 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 in the previous round, Nadal actually felt sorry for how badly he crushed his opponent.
Yes, Nadal is playing so well right now that he feels bad about winning by such a large margin.
In 2010, Almagro made Nadal sweat in the French Open quarterfinals before suffering a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-4 defeat. Although he played Nadal tough, Almagro still could not seize a set in the well-contested match. If almost winning a set against Nadal is considered a moral victory of sorts, how can Almagro actually best him in their upcoming rematch?
While upsets are an integral part to what makes sports exciting and enjoyable, they appear less frequently in men's tennis. Some combination of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Andy Murray has squared off in each Grand Slam finals match during the last two years.
Witnessing an underdog pull off the improbable win over a superior competitor is a thrilling moment in any sport, but don't hold your breath on it happening at Roland Garros.
With a more fortuitous matchup, Almagro could have possibly made a deeper run in the tournament. Catching the older Federer off guard on a clay court at least seems plausible.
Against Nadal, Almagro no longer features a distinct clay-court advantage, and nobody can say he is entering the matchup with all the momentum since Nadal is on fire as well.
To his credit, Almagro is not backing down from the challenge of facing the sport's hottest player.
"I am stronger, too," Almagro said in an Associated Press report. "It's different. It's another match, and I'm ready to fight."
For his sake, he better be stronger than before if he stands any chance of advancing in the French Open. Almagro will need to play the best tennis of his life in order to knock off the man who dominates on Paris' clay courts annually.
And that still probably will not be enough.
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