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Still Waiting For That Breakthrough In The Men's Tennis Game?

PARIS - JUNE 07:  Roger Federer of Switzerland lifts the trophy as he celebrates victory during the Men's Singles Final match against Robin Soderling of Sweden on day fifteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 7, 2009 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Kyle NachreinerCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2010

The heavy forehand sailed just long as it hit the court, ending a 13-stroke rally in dramatic fashion following a 5-set battle between two rivals.  Once again Rafael Nadal had broken Roger Federer's heart, as was indicative of the tears that streamed from Federer's face during the post-match ceremony. 

The 2009 Australian Open ended much like the previous year's Wimbledon and French Open:  a victorious Rafa and a frustrated and dejected Roger Federer. 

But more importantly what did this tell us as tennis fans? 

We were on the verge of a breakthrough in men's tennis in which the dominating reign of Roger Federer was finally coming to a close.  With promising and rising stars such as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, a resurgent Andy Roddick, and of course the giant killer himself, Rafa Nadal, fans were geared up for an exciting overhaul of the sport that was long overdue. 

If the rest of 2009 and the early 2010 season are any indication, tennis fans are going to have to wait a little longer than they had previously thought. 

Roger Federer returned with renewed vigor, capturing his first French Open title.  He then won a record 15th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.  As if that wasn't enough, he stomped any doubts of slowing down because of a new baby and finally achieving the record 15 Grand Slams by pummeling Andy Murray in the 2010 Aussie Open final. 

Here are some reasons why we'll have to wait a little longer for that breakthrough:

Roger Federer is still head and shoulders above the field

Like he's proven time and time again, Federer is near impossible to beat when healthy and playing in a Grand Slam.  Just look at his record streak of 23 consecutive semifinals reached in Grand Slams.  Not to mention his record 16 titles.  Yes, he hasn't been nearly as dominant in the masters and other smaller tournaments as he was in, say, 2006 and 2007, but that is more of a direct result of where the men's game is going. 

The focus has shifted from weekly dominance to slam dominance.  Federer had no problem watching Andy Murray capture title after title in 08 and 09—even constructing a winning head-to-head against Roger—because Federer gathered all the glory, beating Murray in both the U.S. Open and Australian Open Finals. 

The emerging young stars aren't consistent enough

Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Rafa Nadal have all been lauded the next champions of the game who will eventually dethrone Federer.  While this may be true, it isn't going to happen in the near future. 

While Murray has built an impressive resume winning several ATP titles, he has failed to transfer his  game to the 5-set grand slam format.  Djokovic hasn't reached a slam final since disposing of Federer and Tsonga on the way to his first and only title at the 2008 Australian Open.  Much of his recent struggles can be attributed to nagging injuries and a lack of mental toughness. 

And what happened to Rafa you might ask? 

He fell off the tennis map following his three striaght victories over Federer.  His problem is simple, his game requires too much physical strength and defense.  It is becoming sadly clearer everyday that Nadal exhuasted his entire gas tank while imposing his game on Federer to snatch the number one ranking from him.  With his chronic knee problems, it is not unrealistic to wonder if he will ever win a title again. 

Federer has remained healthy

These last notes about injury bring me to my last point.  Federer has remained dominant simply because he is one of few who have remained healthy.  Many say he won the French Open because Nadal lost due to injury, and that this tainted his title. 

The same people argue that he is currently winning titles because he is not being challenged by Nadal any longer.  To Federer's credit, he beat everyone put in front of him.  By remaining healthy, he was able to win titles, something the rest of the field could not do.

In order for someone like Juan Martin Del Potro (who beat Federer at the U.S. Open) to breakthrough, they must be able to stay healthy and consistently play their game.  This has yet to be seen from anyone in the men's game except Federer, who still kept his streak of semifinals reached alive despite coming down with a severe case of mono. 

So, what should we starving fans look for at the French Open?  A possible Nadal resurgence?  Djokovic finally breaking out of his one-hit-wonder status and winning another title, or Andy Murray finally winning that grand slam that everyone including Federer has said is a sure thing to come? 

I wouldn't bet on it.  Hold your breath tennis fans, you're in for a longer wait and much more of the same at Roland Garros.

 

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