Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer all moved on to the semifinals of the 2012 French Open. The former moved on in much more convincing fashion, making the case that he must be favored to win the tournament at Roland Garros.
Nadal breezed passed his off-court best friend, Nicolas Almagro, in straight sets, 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-3. Rafa ended Almagro's perfect run, as the No. 12 ranked player who hadn't dropped a set in the entire tournament prior to the thrashing he received at the hands of Rafa.
Djokovic was pushed to the brink by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, needing five sets to advance to the next round. He was forced to save four match points before he trampled Tsonga in the fifth set to seal his comeback victory, 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-1. Djoker clearly was the lesser player in the middle three sets but was able to come away with a less than convincing victory.
Federer found himself closer to defeat than the top-two players in the world. He had his back against the wall, dropping the first pair of sets. We might be talking about how Federer is on his way home, but the tennis gods were on his side in this match that saw Juan Martin Del Potro lose momentum thanks to his balky knee.
Nonetheless, the Swiss legend was able to storm back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3.
The results of the above three matches show that despite his No. 2 world ranking, Nadal is still the man to beat in the French Open. His performance thus far has been nothing short of dominant, allowing his opponents to win more than four games in a set just one time (against Almagro), and we will see more of the same as the tournament progresses.
There's no doubt that the most recent matches for Djokovic and Federer took a physical toll on the two. The two hard-fought matches aside, Nadal is still at a huge advantage because a semifinal showdown between the Serb and the Swiss native is on the horizon.
The two have been playing for the better part of two weeks, and they could hardly afford the marathon matches that they were a part of in the quarterfinals while Nadal breezed through his first five opponents.
Compound that with Nadal's past superiority on clay, specifically at Roland Garros, and there's no reason to believe that Rafa is not the man to beat this weekend. He's won six of the last seven French Opens and is looking to surpass Bjorn Borg (six French Open titles) by winning his seventh tournament in Paris to become the definitive king of the French Open.
Nadal's knees typically give him some trouble as tournaments progress, but the clay surface is much easier on his joints leveling the playing field.
The Spaniard will play either Andy Murray or David Ferrer in the next round, a matchup that is a far cry from the impending Djokovic-Federer semifinal tilt.
Combine Nadal's easy road to the semifinals with his mastery on clay, and it's a discernible fact that he is the man to beat at the 2012 French Open.