What Rafael Nadal's Defeat Means for Roger Federer and the Rest
Yesterday was a day of shock in the tennis world. A shock so big has not been witnessed in sport for a long time, let alone in tennis.
Rafael Nadal, the four-time and defending champion at Roland Garros, was knocked out in the fourth round by Robin Soderling.
We all knew this day would come sometime. Like Roger Federer's unbelievable five-year run at Wimbledon, this streak would end eventually, but few of us would have predicted that it would happen this year.
After winning the Australian Open at the beginning of the year, the whispers had begun about the possibility of Nadal claiming a calendar Grand Slam this year. The French Open seemed almost a formality, as we all were certain we'd see the muscular man from Majorca bite into the Coupe des Mousquetaires once again.
Instead, Soderling handed him his earliest Grand Slam defeat in four years. He ended Nadal's unbelievable run at Roland Garros, a place where Rafa has not tasted defeat before.
So was it just a bad day at the office for Rafa? Or was it that he had tired himself out by playing so many back-to-back tournaments in the buildup to Roland Garros?
Maybe it was just the pressure of defending his French Open title, coupled with the unbeaten run at Roland Garros and the fact that, as the World No. 1, he had a bull's-eye on his back.
Whatever it was, his shocking defeat has thrown the tournament wide open and has given the rest of the players new hope as we head into Week Two at the French Open.
With Nadal's defeat yesterday, and Novak Djokovic out a round earlier, Roger Federer would now, in most people's eyes, be the favourite to win his maiden title at Roland Garros.
Nadal himself said that Roger was now favourite to win. In fact, when pressed by the media, Rafa admitted that it would be great if Roger won it this time around, after trying and losing for the past three years.
It will be interesting to see how Roger copes with his newfound status as the title favourite. Nobody doubts Roger Federer's ability to win a Grand Slam, but this is the one he has not been able to win yet, mostly thanks to Mr. Nadal, who has beaten him in each of his previous four attempts.
In addition to that, Federer is gunning for Pete Sampras' record haul of 14, and a win here would put him on par with Sampras. The added bonus would be that it is the French Open title, the one slam Sampras never got close to winning.
All of this puts undoubted additional pressure on the Swiss Master, who does not seem to be at his clinical best.
His level of play in the matches so far seems to fluctuate from mediocre to simply breathtaking. For him to win the title, he will need to maintain a high standard of play through the rest of the tournament.
With a relatively easy draw to start off with, and now two of his main rivals being eliminated before the start of the second week, this surely seems like Roger's best chance to claim the elusive French Open and complete a career Grand Slam.
As Nadal said himself, "If one guy deserves it, it's him."
Roger and Rafa have together won an unbelievable 15 of the last 16 Grand Slams played. With Nadal now out of contention, Federer needs to win this title to keep that record going further.
In the rest of the field, Andy Murray will surely fancy his chances of making a run to the finals and perhaps winning his first Grand Slam here.
Though not his favourite surface, Murray has been making steady progress here and has already surpassed his earlier expectations by making it to the quarterfinals. Anything additional for him will be a welcome bonus.
Andy Roddick is the other surprise of the tournament. Clay has been Roddick's least favourite surface, and making it to the Round of 16 this year has been his best performance at Roland Garros to date. How far he can go remains to be seen.
Robin Soderling will no doubt be brimming with confidence after what he called the proudest win of his career, against the best clay court player ever. If he continues to play at that level, with that confidence, he will be a tough man to beat.
The French also have something to cheer about with both Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils still in the running. Tsonga, in particular, seems to be having quite a tournament, and with the home crowd rooting for him, his opponents may find they have a major challenge ahead of them.
All in all, it makes for an interesting and slightly unpredictable week two at Roland Garros.
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