Roland Garros: What Have Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, and Co. Learned in Round 1?

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Roland Garros: What Have Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, and Co. Learned in Round 1?
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Desired result, but much harder than anticipated

As the first round of matches has been played out on the Men's side, it seems that barring a hiccup or two, things remain on track for the world's top male tennis players. While Rafael Nadal flirted with epic disaster of "Transformers 2" proportions, the Serbian freight train Novak Djokovic continued on his stream-rolling way.

Keeping things in perspective—as it is quite easy to micro-analyze just a first round match—there are some things we have learned about the top men's seeds.

1. Rafael Nadal: Jittery, yet able to rise when it counts

The world's No. 1 player seemed anything but that in his first round encounter with the marathon man of Wimbledon fame, John Isner, at least in the first three sets. After putting the first set in the bag, he seemed to relax, allowing Isner to ease his way back into the contest.

The way he came out to play in sets four and five made it seem as if his inner voice had reminded him that he was the Rafael Nadal, a.k.a. King of Clay, a.k.a. Owner of Roland Garros. He showed a tiring Isner that this is still his house for now, and he intends to keep hold of it for as long as he can.

Rafa is certainly not firing on all cylinders at the moment, both mentally and technically. Physically, however, he's still got the stamina to go toe-to-toe with the best of them over five sets.

He seems, however, to be lacking that killer instinct associated with his name on Court Phillipe Chartrier. If he is to make a deeper run into the draw, he needs to get his act together now, otherwise the likes of Nikolay Davydenko, Fernando Verdasco, and the only man to beat him at Roland Garros, Robin Soderling, await further down the road.

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Firing on all cylinders . . . 40 and counting

On this form, i.e. beating down a tired Isner and fist-pumping his way to mental stability, it seems he may be in a spot of bother, especially if he has one of his horrid serving episodes.

2. Novak Djokovic: Ruthlessly unfazed by the "pressure" of the streak

With sixth seed Tomas Berdych out of the way, Djokovic's biggest challenge before a scheduled semifinal date with Roger Federer, certainly looms in the shape of 27th seed Juan Martin Del Potro, who he could meet in Round three.

His near-perfect demolition job on the Dutchman Thiemo De Bakker in Round one really adds little more to what we already know about the new and improved, seemingly reincarnated Serbian superhero.

For example, we did learn that this well-oiled Serbinator will not be fazed by the hot temperatures, or the prospect of winning three sets to win a match, or even suffer one of his famed lapses of concentration to allow lower-ranked opposition even a sniff at landing his prized scalp.

On the evidence of Round one at Roland Garros—and the small matter of victories in Madrid and Rome—Djokovic is certainly the one leading this pack of uber-talented ATP Tour professionals towards La Coupe des Mousquetaires.

3. Roger Federer: Still efficient against non-top-ten opposition

Roger Federer's unaccustomed under-the-radar presence may have gone unnoticed by many in the wake of the excitement of continuation of Djokovic's streak, or even Rafa's unscheduled marathon with Isner. However, he seems to be adapting well, and possibly mentally recognizing that his final destination is grand slam victories, and not the No. one ranking right now.

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Roger Federer's largely untroubled dispatching of Feliciano Lopez in Round one was typical of his well-known Swiss efficiency. But sterner tests lie ahead in the form of Janko Tipsarevic, Stanislas Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and possibly David Ferrer. All this before he is really in the thick of it against Djokovic.

Everybody knows Federer would like to keep the point rallies shorter, and that his one-handed backhand is his big weakness in that it is unsustainable in longer rallies. So he has to watch out for baseline specialists who would engage him as such.

4. Andy Murray: The hope of a Royal Kingdom is a changed man from Melbourne

Can a British player's first grand slam after eons really come on the clay of Roland Garros? Well, Andy Murray hasn't done anything drastically dramatic yet to prove otherwise. His first-round cakewalk sees him ease into the easiest draw of all the big four, with the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov or Viktor Troicki and Jurgen Melzer lying in wait.

Unless he suffers from a brain cramp, Andy Murray should emulate fellow Briton (the previous great British hope), Tim Henman, by appearing in his maiden Roland Garros semi-final. Murray remains tenacious, willing to extend rallies until his opponent gives way, and that seems to be his continued formula for success here as well. If anything, Andy Murray's likely mental test will be when, and if, he has to come back from a set-down against lesser opponents in the next rounds.

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Likely semi-final line-up for Roland Garros 2011

5. Robin Soderling: The big four seem to have passed him by

Even though he's a two-time finalist here, Robin Soderling just doesn't seem to possess the same threat that he did when he broke his way to fame here two years ago, dispatching an unbeaten Rafa in Round four.

His game doesn't seem to have added anything new to it, and in this form it seems to have pushed him further into the chasing pack, as opposed to the leading pack, for grand slam glory. His hard-hitting, his angles, and his serve seem to have become predictable enough for the big four to handle without any major worries.

Unless he can really come out with a destructive win against his next couple of opponents to build up momentum, he may extend Nadal, but not be able to best him this time around in a potential quarter-final match-up.

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