"Rafa Nadal best ever on clay...period," said Andy Roddick in a Twitter message after the Spaniard completed the unprecedented "Clay Slam" on Sunday.
I guess most of us would agree. Though we all knew that Rafael Nadal is really good on clay, what he accomplished in this year's clay-court season was just mind-boggling. The "King of Clay" is once again the King of our power rankings. I doubt anyone needs any convincing to accept that.
Just a small reminder: the grass-court season has already begun. Due to the switch of playing surfaces, the current power rankings might not be a great indicator of form for the next few weeks, especially for those true clay-courters.
The Top 10
1. Rafael Nadal (Last Power Ranking: 1; ATP Ranking: 1)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Winner]; Madrid [Winner]; Rome [Winner]; Monte Carlo [Winner]
Power Ranking Points: 2542
2542, that's a Power Rankings record! Just look at Nadal's Last Four Tournaments!
Before Madrid Masters began, Nadal was ranked No. 3 in the world, trailing Roger Federer by almost 4000 points. After Madrid, he rose to No. 2, and now he is again No. 1 in the world! I wonder if that is also a record, the fastest from No. 3 to No. 1.
Though some have claimed that this year's Nadal was not as dominate as in 2008, I have to disagree. In fact I believe Nadal has taken another decisive step towards tennis immortality.
In 2008, Nadal was doing what could be described as "all-out defense/attack,” playing every point as hard as he could. In 2010, he has become smarter and is doing what could be described as "controlled aggression,” playing every point as hard as he needs to. And this can only be achieved if he can play at a higher level than his opponents and he is fully confident in his own game.
With literally "zero" pressure going into Wimbledon, there is a big chance that Nadal could repeat what he was able to accomplish in 2008. And should he pull that off, look for another round of GOAT debate to begin.
2. Robin Soderling (Last Power Ranking: 9; ATP Ranking: 6)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Finalist]; Nice [R32]; Madrid [R64]; Rome [R16]
Power Ranking Points: 1218
"Nobody beats Robin 13 times in a row!" And Soderling lived up to his promise this time around, dispatching Federer in the French Open quarterfinals. But to beat Roger and Rafa both in a Grand Slam is something rarely achieved. Only Juan Martin Del Potro was able to accomplish that in last year's US Open. Still, making it to the final at the French Open in two consecutive years was already quite an accomplishment in itself. He has outdone his coach Magnus Norman in that category.
Though already enjoying a career-high ranking of No.6, Soderling should be able to push even higher based on his power game. But to be considered a serious contender in all the Slams, he has to add some "touch" to his game, especially at the net.
3. Jurgen Melzer (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 16)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Semifinalist]; Madrid [Quarterfinalist]; Rome [R64]; Barcelona [R16]
Power Ranking Points: 773
The most surprising semifinalist at this year's French Open has to be Jurgen Melzer, who totally stunned Novak Djokovic in their quarterfinal clash. And there is really no shame of going down against Nadal in straight sets, as everyone else did in the tournament. In fact the Austrian was only the second player, the other being Nicolas Almagro, to push Nadal to a tiebreaker.
Melzer had never been to the round of 16 in a Grand Slam prior to Roland Garros this year. And there was no indication before the tournament began that his R32-streak should end. Now at a career-high ranking of No. 16, it remains to be seen if Melzer will be able to take advantage of better seeding to have more success in coming weeks.
4. Tomas Berdych (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 13)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Semifinalist]; Munich [Quarterfinalist]; Rome [R32]; Monte Carlo [R16]
Power Ranking Points: 748
Already a top ten player back in 2007, Tomas Berdych showed great talent back then. However he was never able to live up to his potential until now, reaching the first Grand Slam semifinal of his career. With his self-confidence up, the Czech should be able to make more inroads in coming Slams.
Like Soderling, Berdych needed time to become more mature and more consistent. Once he puts pieces together, he becomes a very dangerous player with his power game. His best Grand Slam result before Roland Garros this year came at Wimbledon in 2007, when he lost to Nadal in the quarterfinals. He also captured the Halle title in 2007. So he is fully capable of performing well on grass.
5. Roger Federer (Last Power Ranking: 3; ATP Ranking: 2)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Quarterfinalist]; Madrid [Finalist]; Estoril [Semifinalist]; Rome [R64]
Power Ranking Points: 530
Marcos Baghdatis, Tomas Berdych, Ernests Gulbis, Albert Montanes, Rafael Nadal, Robin Soderling. Those are the players who beat Roger Federer since Australia. Though not admitting it, the loss to Soderling at the French Open quarterfinals has to hurt. Not only did it end his amazing 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals streak, but it also prevented him to equal and pass Sampras' record of 286 weeks at No. 1.
Federer's current tally is 285! The Swiss has stressed on several occasions that one of his main goals this year is to end as the year-end No. 1. With the ranking structure as it is, that seems to be a "mission impossible" at this point.
But still, it is way too early to write Federer off. Signing a "Lifetime agreement" with the Halle tournament, Federer is sending an official message that he is here to stay for many years to come. And the fight back to No. 1 for the Maestro starts this week at Halle.
6. Nicolas Almagro (Last Power Ranking: 5; ATP Ranking: 18)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Quarterfinalist]; Madrid [Semifinalist]; Munich [Quarterfinalist]; Rome [R32]
Power Ranking Points: 467
Nicolas Almagro had a very solid clay-court season. After all, he is a Spaniard, no? He took a set off Nadal in the Madrid semifinals and pushed the latter to two tiebreakers at Roland Garros. He truly believed that he could beat Nadal on clay, but his head-to-head against the latter now stands at 0-7. The Nadal-Almagro head-to-head might turn out to be like Federer-Davydenko.
All Almagro's titles have come on clay, so he is probably a true clay-courter. He had never made beyond the round of 32 at Wimbledon, so I won't be surprised if he makes an early exit this year at the All England Club.
7. Novak Djokovic (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 3)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Quarterfinalist]; Belgrade [Quarterfinalist]; Rome [Quarterfinalist]; Monte Carlo [Semifinalist]
Power Ranking Points: 444
Novak Djokovic has had a good season, by a good player's standard. But the Serb is a Grand Slam champion, and so will always be judged by a great player's standard. And by that standard, his results so far this year have not been that great, though he did manage to rise to world's No. 2 at the start of February. In a tennis world dominated by Federer and Nadal, that was already some achievement.
I am not sure what Todd Martin did to Djokovic's game, but as they say he is struggling to find back the "old Djoker.” In particular, it seems Djokovic needs to learn how to serve again. You can't be a great player if you are not even sure of your own game. And his epic meltdown against Melzer in the French Open semifinals could only lower his already not-so-high self-confidence. He has had mixed results at Wimbledon. With his current form and confidence, it will be extremely hard for him to match his best effort there, a semifinal run in 2007.
8. Mikhail Youzhny (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 14)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Quarterfinalist]; Madrid [R32]; Munich [Winner]; Rome [R64]
Power Ranking Points: 423
Mikhail Youzhny has had a good season. Having made it to two consecutive finals in February, he finally went all the way in Munich, claiming his first clay-court title. But he took a beating by Tomas Berdych in the French Open quarterfinals, winning only six games in total. Maybe that just shows you that he is not what one could call "an elite player.”
Youzhny lost in the first round at Wimbledon last year. He has made it to the round of 16 five times at the All England Club, most recently in 2008 and 2007 when he lost to Nadal both times. Maybe another R16 showing is in store for the Russian this year.
9. Fernando Verdasco (Last Power Ranking: 4; ATP Ranking: 9)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [R16]; Nice [Finalist]; Madrid [R16]; Rome [Semifinalist]
Power Ranking Points: 313
Fernando Verdasco was on fire in the first three clay-court tournaments this season, making to his first Masters final in Monte-Carlo and then capturing the title in Barcelona. But his decision to play the Nice tournament was quite puzzling, especially considering that he just sustained a minor injury at Madrid the week before. Not surprisingly then that he ran out of gas at Roland Garros, falling to Almagro in the round of 16.
Though not a true clay-courter, especially considering his many good results on hard courts, Verdasco has yet to find much success on grass. He has never advanced beyond the round of 16 at Wimbledon. But the Spaniard has grown up quit a bit since the end of 2008. With a favorable draw, a quarterfinal showing this year is entirely possible.
10. David Ferrer (Last Power Ranking: 2; ATP Ranking: 11)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [R32]; Madrid [Semifinalist]; Rome [Finalist]; Barcelona [Semifinalist]
Power Ranking Points: 306
Another Spaniard on fire this clay-court season was Devid Ferrer, who made to at least the semifinals in his last four tournaments before Roland Garros. But like Verdasco, Ferrer ran out of steam at the French Open, falling to Melzer in the round of 32, taking a bagel on the way out.
Again like his compatriot Verdasco, Ferrer has had little success on grass, advancing to the Wimbledon round of 16 only once, in 2006. But unlike Verdasco, Ferrer's career is on decline, having peaked in 2007. So even with his impressive clay results of late, look for the Spaniard to make an early exit at Wimbledon this year.
Outside Looking In
Stanislas Wawrinka (Last Power Ranking: 8; ATP Ranking: 22)
Power Ranking Points: 251
Stanislas Wawrinka bagged his second career singles title at Casablanca this year. But like Youzhny, he does not seem to belong to the elite club. He had a memorable battle against Andy Murray at Wimbledon last year, losing in five sets under the new Center Court roof. The Swiss could aim for another round of 16 showing this year.
Andy Roddick (Last Power Ranking: 7; ATP Ranking: 7)
Power Ranking Points: 246
Andy Roddick should not have bothered to show up at Roland Garros at all. We all know that what the American really cares about is Wimbledon. Should he have skipped the French Open, he could very well arrive at the All England Club on a winning streak. And nobody needs to remind A-Rod what happened in last year's final.
Andy Murray (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 4)
Power Ranking Points: 241
Andy Murray put up a respectable fight at Roland Garros, losing to an inspired Berdych in the round of 16. But the Scot is still not out of the shadow that has been following him since his defeat in the Australian Open final. With a nation's expectation weighing heavily again on the Scot's shoulder, I will not bet on him to break England's "ten-thousand year Slam drought" at Wimbledon this year.