Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal Lead Tennis Superheros into Paris
At the end of this European clay court season, we stare headlong into the promise of another blockbuster slam—the French Open 2010.
The drama of the upcoming event played at historic Stade Roland Garros has long been anticipated in the hearts and minds of tennis aficionados across the globe.
Secretly for each rabid fan, the favorite of choice has already been crowned champion.
The hit-and-miss performances of many players who normally claim the starring roles in these renowned tennis epics, however, continued to cause doubt.
One after another broad-based tennis pundit pondered this apparent anomaly unfolding in 2010, their questions peppered all media outlets.
First and foremost is the quandary of which superhero tennis star will ultimately claim the leading role in Paris?
The company has yet to post the cast of characters and who might be filling them. The question of who will emerge as the champion fills the vast arena of speculation...
Roger Federer: The Man of Steel
Roger Federer inhabits the time-honored role of Superman in the tennis world these days.
He can deliver a knockout blow any time he feels the urge, but he chooses his moments carefully these days because he can afford to. He is no longer the young, eager and aggressive up-and-comer.
He is the seasoned professional who understands the nuances of his game and knows when he must stretch his skills in order to extend his legendary status.
In his only two 2010 clay premieres thus far, the clay has proven to be Federer’s kryptonite. His draws have been harsh and his critics constant. In Estoril he lost to the eventual champion Albert Montanes in the semifinals.
Federer could not find his famed footing in the first set and lost a winnable tiebreak in the second. Predictably, the Swiss professed disappointment in this lost opportunity but was not crushed by his performance.
In Rome he lost in the second round to Ernests Gulbis, who then seized the spotlight all the way to the semis where he gave defending champion Rafael Nadal a real dogfight of a match before falling.
During his encounter with the Latvian, Federer had every opportunity to seize control of the match, as his fans waited for him to head into the phone booth. Apparently Federer had forgotten to pack his cape.
This week he is trying to reprise his role as champion against the field. The script is the same as last year, when he came into Madrid having lost in both previous clay tournaments.
Despite the odds, Federer won in Madrid in 2009, upending favorite Rafael Nadal.
Will it be the same ending in Madrid? Will the the man of steel reign again on the grounds at Stade Roland Garros?
Rafael Nadal: The Incredible Hulk
Rafael Nadal is the refurbished Incredible Hulk of the tennis tour with his strength magically restored by the vibrant red clay.
The world waits for him to live up to his destiny to rule the dusty grounds once again in Paris by first seizing the title in Madrid.
Last year weakened by overexposure and tenuous knees, the power of the man from Majorca waned for a time. External forces conspired to overwhelm him.
In order to reclaim his hold at the top of the game, Nadal battled back tirelessly on rigid hard courts.
Once on the red dirt, however, the King of Clay began to re-embody his surly past, snarling and angry, pacing the baselines, waiting to crush his opponent across the net.
So far in 2010 the Majorcan has seized the championships in both Monte Carlo and in Rome, marking the red clay as his own territory for the foreseeable future.
Seeded No. 2 in Madrid, everyone lives to see a re-shoot of the final from a year ago, wondering if the script will crown Nadal as the victor this time—further whether a win in Madrid will lead to triumph on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros?
Novak Djokovic: Aqua Man
Novak Djokovic, on hiatus from his role as the Djoker, has been busy tinkering with his arsenal of weapons and his sidekicks, opting instead for the role of Aqua Man while he reassesses the strengths of his opposition.
After losing to the other top-10 Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco, during the semifinals in Monte Carlo and then again during the quarterfinals in Rome, Djokovic threw in the proverbial towel by retiring during the quarterfinals of his hometown tournament in Belgrade, Serbia.
In 2009 during the early part of the clay court season, Djokovic was being hailed as the “second best” clay courter in the land, next to the King of Clay, Nadal. The Serb was cast as runner-up in both Monte Carlo and Rome to the undefeated Majorcan.
After winning the inaugural Serbian Open, Djokovic met Nadal again in the semifinals of Madrid, where they did battle for just over four hours in a three-set match. Nadal finally won that exhausting encounter and moved on to meet Federer in the finals.
Those early battles sapped the strength from the Serb and, as we soon found out, from Nadal as well. In 2010 Djokovic is out of gas earlier than usual, pulling out of Madrid, citing illness and exhaustion.
Whether he can pull his act together in time to be relevant in Paris is yet to be seen.
Andy Murray: The Invisible Man
Speaking of relevancy, Andy Murray, The Invisible Man of professional tennis, has let his remarkable abilities disappear during the current clay court season.
The red dirt has never been a surface where Murray could materialize with a victory—or even a decent run—so the end of the clay season must be a relief for the Scot.
So far in 2010 Murray has lost in the second round in Monte Carlo and in the third round in Rome. These are not exactly sterling efforts for one of the anointed stars of the tour.
What is more, Murray lost to players who should not have caused him problems.
In 2009 the Scot did marginally better by making it to the semifinals of Monte Carlo before falling to eventual champion Nadal.
The truth of the matter is that if Murray’s head isn’t in the game, his ability to make an impact evaporates. Waiting for his opponents to wither under his patient and patented defense just doesn’t cut it on clay, where the base-liners rule.
Hopefully he will hit his stride in Madrid, where the conditions suit him a bit better. Nothing would reinvigorate the Scot more than seizing a victory on the red clay before heading into the heady heights of Stade Roland Garros.
Juan Martin del Potro: The Caped Crusader
Juan Martin del Potro, as a dejected Batman skulking off screen, will try to recreate his stunning portrayal of the victor at last year’s U.S. Open, assuming the doctors can reweave his superhero suit.
He will miss the clay altogether while he mends––not returning to the tour until the U.S. Open, if then.
In the meantime, the Argentine bides his time waiting to replay his assault upon the leaders.
Nikolay Davydenko: Spider Man
Nikolay Davydenko, whose Spiderman hold on all surfaces is uncanny, is currently sidelined and hopes to return in time for the French.
The Russian can make any match sticky for his opposition as he skitters over the surface of courts returning serves and slicing winners—enticing potential victims into his deceptive web with his undersized appearance.
Whether or not he can return to the tour in late May remains uncertain. In the meantime the Russian bides his time, waiting...
Robin Soderling: The Boy Wonder
Robin Soderling, disguised as Robin, the Boy Wonder, continues to amaze and confound critics and his opposition.
He legitimized his role, upsetting Nadal in Paris in 2009. Will he reprise the role as a spoiler or will he rise to take the lead by claiming the ultimate prize this year in Paris?
You just never know for sure if the real Boy Wonder will show up for the match with his ego attached.
Andy Roddick: Captain America
Andy Roddick stars as Captain America—you just can’t kill the spirit of the ultimate fighting machine.
Roddick embodies the demeanor of the man who will never quit.
The American will try to bully opponents on the clay for a short time, waiting for real action to begin at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Having pulled out of Rome before he began, he lost any chance to warm up on the clay before heading to Stade Roland Garros.
Fernando Verdasco: The Incredible Hunk
Fernando Verdasco’s roles on clay as the Spanish Hunk so far in 2010 have been second best only to Nadal's.
He met Nadal in the finals of Monte Carlo and then went on to win in Barcelona before he ran out of gas in Rome.
Can Verdasco finally rise up and steal the show––on the tennis courts, that is...
Ernests Gulbis: The Latvian Iron Man
Ernests Gulbis is skyrocketing to fame as the Latvian Iron Man, setting the tour on fire during the early clay court season with his dismissal of Federer and his close semifinal contest with Nadal in Rome.
Gulbis is fulfilling the promise he demonstrated early in his career. He could knock out any one of the favorites in Rome with his superhuman game.
This could be the best season for the Latvian Iron Man to date...
The Unusual Suspects...
The stage is set for the final curtain on the clay court season as it concludes in Paris on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros.
The usual cast of characters will be waiting to take their turn on center stage hoping for Lady Luck to increase their odds.
The 2010 French Open promises drama of the highest order so don’t miss it. Paris sizzles...