We knew that one day, something like this would happen again. And at long last, it has—Rafael Nadal has lost at Roland Garros for just the second time in his career.
This loss, however, says more about his opponent than it does about him.
Right now, Novak Djokovic is undoubtedly the best men's tennis player in the world. No matter the surface, no matter the situation, he is the one to beat. And with just two more victories in Paris, he'll have the crown jewel that has been missing from his collection for so long, the French Open title.
Djokovic didn't just defeat Nadal in the French Open quarterfinals on Wednesday, he absolutely demolished him. The Serb won 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. He hit 45 winners to Nadal's 16, won 102 points to Nadal's 71. He broke the Spaniard seven times and finished up the emphatic win in two hours and 26 minutes, a mere sprint compared to most of the marathons these two have played at the majors.
Beating Nadal at Roland Garros was one of the last great hurdles of Djokovic's career, and he cleared it with air to spare.
Of course, Djokovic's task is not complete yet. He still has to face a reinvigorated, undefeated-on-clay-in-2015 Andy Murray in the semifinals and an in-form Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Stan Wawrinka in the final in order to win the French Open and complete his career Slam.
Those are not players to look past, and the possibility of an upset cannot be thrown completely out the window.
However, as Chris Chase of For The Win pointed out, the confidence Djokovic should gain from the emphatic win over Nadal—not to mention the energy conserved thanks to the brevity of the match itself—should only boost his title hopes:
Though Djokovic surely knows he still has work to do to cap the career Slam, there has to be some feeling that the biggest win came today with his easy defeat of Nadal. A future letdown is hardly out of the question. On the other hand, the fact that he beat Nadal so easily can only be a boon. Djokovic, who isn’t exactly a wallflower, will be brimming with confidence and it’ll be impossible for the other players not to notice the scoreline.
It's taken a while for Djokovic to become supremely confident with the idea of himself as a front-runner. But he has that now, and whether it's due to the team around him, his new off-court roles as a husband and a father or merely because he's matured, that confidence in himself and his game is developing into his biggest weapon.
Now that he's beaten Nadal at Roland Garros—something he had previously tried to do six times in his career, something that had become the tennis equivalent of knocking out Floyd Mayweather—Djokovic has to be asking himself: What can't I do?
The truth is, over the past eight months, the answer to that question has been "nothing." While Djokovic's win over Nadal on Wednesday was noteworthy due to the historical significance, it's far from a surprise given Djokovic's recent form.
The Serb is now 40-2 on the year and hasn't lost a match since March 1. He has won every Masters 1000 event or Grand Slam he has entered since the Paris Masters last November. That phenomenal stretch spans clay and indoor/outdoor hard-courts, and includes victories over 22 top-10 players. That is nothing less than astonishing.
Since turning his career around in 2011, Djokovic has been the one to beat. Sure, he has been beaten, and sure, Nadal and Roger Federer and Murray have gone through weeks or even months when they looked like the sport's dominant player. But as a whole, it's been Djokovic's era.
With this victory over Nadal, Djokovic's era is gaining ground in the history books, and that gain will be even more significant if he can take this run all the way to the French Open title.
The Serb noted how important the victory over Nadal is, per Roland Garros:
A lot of people will erroneously use this loss as a way to diminish Nadal's legacy. That is simply ridiculous. Nadal has won the French Open nine times in the last 10 years. He won the trophy four times in a row, lost in the fourth round in 2009 to Robin Soderling and came back to win it five more years in a row.
His place in the history books is secure, even if he never wins again, which is a far-too-dramatic prediction to make after this tournament.
This year has simply been a difficult one for the Spaniard, who hasn't found his top form since last year's Roland Garros due to a string of injuries and illness and a subsequent loss of fitness and belief. He maintained after the loss to Djokovic that he will continue to work hard and that he will come back more determined than ever, via the New York Times' Ben Rothenberg. That sentiment cannot be questioned if you've ever watched the 14-time Grand Slam champion compete on the court.
But Wednesday was Djokovic's day through and through. He got off to a 4-0 lead, he weathered the storm when Nadal came back to level things up in the first set, then he found another gear. He didn't overcomplicate things when Nadal's forehand went awry, and he didn't panic when Nadal saved break points or set points. He merely kept going, a man on a mission to erase any doubts, be they his or ours.
Djokovic's quest for a career Slam isn't over, but his statement on Wednesday was still loud and clear: He is the best player in the world. This is, and has been, Djokovic's time to shine.
If he keeps playing tennis on his terms for the rest of the week, he'll have the crown on Sunday to prove it.