Rafa, this French Open won't be the same without you! Like everyone else, I too wondered who would end your run at the French Open. It's only natural. All good runs of dominance must sadly come to an end.
I'm sure Rafa could commiserate with Roger Federer, knowing how it now feels when an incredible streak ends.
First, it was Federer winning Wimbledon five times in a row—a streak broken by Rafa in a well-deserved first win at Wimbledon last summer. Now Rafa's streak at the French Open has been broken by Robin Soderling.
If there's one truth that exists in the game of tennis—it's that anyone can be beaten on the day. A top player can be vulnerable if they encounter a red hot player who has nothing to lose.
Roger said it best in his press conference that the media hype kicks in and suggests that first Roger himself and then Rafa were unbeatable. Roger said they're human beings and when you're at the top, everyone is gunning for you. If the player catches you on a day when you're vulnerable, you can get beat.
Surprisingly, Rafa's defeat at Roland Garros came at the hands of a pro with whom he has a history. At Wimbledon two years ago, Soderling infamously mimicked Rafa's service motion preparation. It was less than Djokovic's playful imitation of his fellow pros' "tics" on the court and bordered on a malicious mocking of Rafa's serve preparation routine.
The fact that Rafa was taken out by Soderling, a player who had never beaten him in three previous tries, echoes Federer's thoughts. Sometimes it's easy to take out a top player who's not playing his best on the day.
It would be too predictable to cast Soderling in the role of spoiler, but in light of his history with Rafa, this role will do until I think of another way to cast his run in this year's French Open. It will indeed be interesting to see how far he will go in the tournament.
While I am unabashedly a Roger fan, but I can't help but appreciate the work ethic Rafa brings to the game of tennis. I had nightmares that the end of Roger's era of dominance at Wimbledon would come at the hands of a player who would be a mere footnote of history at Wimbledon. The fact that Rafa, after three times in the final, could finally win the title he most coveted, was acceptable to this Roger fan.
For four years, Rafa would savor a sweet birthday with a run to the title in Paris. Rafa jokingly said he had a date with his swimming pool at his house after his loss in Paris.
For four years, Rafa would celebrate with an exuberant "swim" in the red clay of Roland Garros. He won't do that this year. A new champion will take the title in Paris this year.
Wherever you are Rafa, today is your birthday! Roger promised in his press conference when asked about your loss that you would come back strong. Come back strong, Rafa! We'll miss you as champion in Paris.
Wherever you are today, go party! It's your birthday! See you at Wimbledon.