Friday evening, the tennis world received the second largest shock of the year. In less than two weeks time, the No. 1 player in the world went from being a seemingly unstoppable tennis juggernaut to being human.
In reality, this was an illusion. The truth is that this downfall was many months in the making.
In the early part of the second set of the February Rotterdam final against Andy Murray, Nadal injured his right knee. Even though he was injured, he still nearly won the match in two sets.
Basically, he didn't try for any ball that was more than a step away during the third set, and in the end Murray prevailed.
The next warning occurred during a match in Madrid. During the second set, while playing Djokovic, Nadal double faulted with a serve that did not even make it to the net.
To the trained observer, this was a sign that his knee had again become a major problem. It is likely that the injury was a factor in Federer’s victory over Nadal in the Madrid final.
Robin Soderling played an incredible match at the French Open, beating Nadal in the fourth round. Again, it was clear to the trained eye that this was not the Nadal we are used to seeing; it was obvious that something was amiss.
Nadal was reported to have said in his press conference Friday, "sportsmen always play with pain."
In Nadal’s case, I think that it can be stated that true champions endure pain that others cannot imagine.
While it is indeed sad that Rafa cannot defend his Wimbledon title, there is still a lot of extraordinary tennis to be played over the next two weeks.
This is an incredible era in tennis. The depth of the field has never been greater on both the men's and women's tour.
With Juan Martin Del Potro taking Nadal’s place at the top half of the men’s draw, the dynamics of the early round matches have changed dramatically.
There are now more than a few of players that hours ago would have given themselves almost no likelihood of doing anything more than being practice partners during the second week.
These players now have a legitimate shot at a round of 16 or better run.
A few potentially interesting early round matchups will be covered in this article. A follow-up article will cover some potential second week clashes amongst the top seeds and the upset makers.