French Open 2011: Could This Be the Best Men's Semifinals Ever?

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French Open 2011: Could This Be the Best Men's Semifinals Ever?
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With Nadal and Murray joining Federer and the well rested Djokovic in the semifinals, the final weekend at Roland Garros is shaping up to be one of the most striking ends to a Grand Slam in decades. 

It is certainly not the first time that all four top seeds reached the semis of a Grand Slam as it happened here at Roland Garros as recently as 2006. This year however these players are special as they all are well deserving of recognition of the best four players in the game. Rarely have fans been treated to such dominance and fierce battles among such a talented group. 

The incredible star power, the heated rivalries and the history and streaks that are on the line make for the most intriguing match-ups and story lines in memory not just at the French Open but any Grand Slam or any other period of tennis. 

For starters, there is the one seed Rafael Nadal who is an incredible 43-1 on clay and going for his record tying sixth French Open trophy. After admitting on Monday during his post-match press conference that he was not playing well enough to win, Nadal found his form in the quarterfinals thumping the fifth seed Robin Soderling—the only man to beat him on the French clay—in straight sets. Nadal might not have acknowledged it but it certainly seemed like he was playing with a vengeance.

If Nadal can join Bjorn Borg as the only other six time French Open champion, Nadal will likely secure his reputation as the best clay court player in tennis history. Nevertheless and somewhat surprisingly, Nadal heads into the last two rounds as the underdog due to the emergence of Novak Djokovic

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The second seeded Serb carries a streak of his own the semifinals. A walkover against Fabio Fognini allowed Djokovic to tie John McEnroe's record of 43 consecutive wins to start a season. The hottest player on tour has been absolutely dominant this season and has Guillermo Vilas' 1977 record setting 46 match consecutive win streak in his sights.

Having existed in the shadow of Nadal and Federer for the last several years, Djokovic is on the cusp of claiming the number one world ranking. In order to accomplish that and win his first French Open he must first defeat the Swiss star on Friday.

A record holding 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer came into the French Open as an afterthought. With Nadal and the rise of Djokovic no one focused on Federer nor gave him much of a chance. Maybe that is exactly how the greatest player in sport likes it because Federer has yet to drop a set in five matches (including three straight against ranked opponents).

With many critics proclaiming Federer's best years are behind him, Federer is poised to silence any doubters and reclaim his status as the world's best player.

The last of the top seeds to advance was Andy Murray. The fiery Scot has long been the best man but never the groom. Having cemented his status as the four best on tour, Murray has yet to break through and win an elusive Grand Slam title. In this tournament Murray has shown his tenacity and determination to win battling through a partially torn ligament in his ankle that he suffered earlier in the tournament.

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After a gutsy performance overcoming both injury and a 5-2 fifth set deficit to Victor Troicki in the fourth round, Murray breezed by Juan Ignacio Chela to set up a date with Rafael Nadal. The gritty and now gimpy Murray will need all the rest and treatment he can get before taking on the top seed.

With the world's best four players all through, the tournament has all the necessary components to ensure that this weekend will be one of tennis' most memorable few days.

Everything needed for a compelling storyline is there: the game's best ever clay court player who is going for a record tying sixth French Open title, a breakthrough star who is taking the tennis world by storm breaking McEnroe's best start to a season while also going for his own first French Open trophy, the great dignified champion who is out to prove to critics he is still relevant and not over the hill just yet (a preposterous argument by the way) and the spirited underdog fighting to step out of the shadow and validate he belongs as he continues on his quest for a first Grand Slam.

Either of the two semifinal matchups could easily be a bona fide championship and each will provide intriguing story lines along with plenty of fireworks. Federer vs. Djokovic is certainly the more anticipated showdown for several reasons.

While Djokovic has won the last three meetings, they (especially the last meeting at Indian Wells) have been closely contested high quality matches. Djokovic has to be favored given his streak, but Federer holds the lead in their overall head-to-head 13-9.

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Federer also has an advantage in Grand Slams winning four of their previous seven meetings. It's hard to pick against Djokovic yet the way Federer has rolled through the draw so far don't be surprised by an upset. The Fed has been building his reserves and definitely has something to prove.  

In the other semis, the worry for tennis fans is that Murray's ankle won't hold under the grueling onslaught by Nadal. Even if the ankle is not an issue it's hard to see Murray out hustling the Spanish star. Murray's heart and mettle has won the adoration of even more fans who have been impressed by his relentless fight and unmatched gas. With the pain and the emotions spent surviving Troicki the question now is whether he has any gas left. 

This weekend tennis fans should sit back, relax and soak it in. With 27 grand slams between them and many more to come, we could easily be watching the best four stars to ever play the game at or very close to the peaks of their games at the same time. Watching these next few matches will be a real treat not just for tennis aficionados but everyone who appreciates sports played at the highest levels. Enjoy! 

 

Predictions:

Federer defeats Djokovic in four sets

Nadal beats Murray in straight sets

Federer finally takes down Nadal on clay in five epic sets. 

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