Tennis fans and analysts have long been pondering this tantalizing question: Who is the next challenger of the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal stranglehold on the sport? Notice the question, I put the "next challenger." For there have been challengers but they seem to come-and-go, never fully making a huge impact.
So far, the main contenders have been Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin delPotro, and now, Robin Soderling. Djokovic and Murray are currently suffering from lost confidence, del Potro out with a wrist injury (he probably won't come back until after the U.S. Open). While Robin Soderling has been slightly up-and-down, despite recently reaching the final of the French Open, upsetting Federer along the way.
Countless times we appeared to have seen the "breakthrough player" playing his "breakthrough match." Djokovic-Federer 2008 Australian Open (W), Murray-Gasquet2008 Wimbledon (W), del Potro-Federer 2009 French Open (L), and Soderling-Nadal 2009 French Open (W).
Although I believe Federer will be similar to Andre Agassi in his later years, he'd still be at the top. And Nadal is still at his prime, aged only 24, there still seems to be a lack of challengers. Sure, there are still some upsets in tournaments. Sure, there are some men that can play and beat the two, but not consistently. Sure, del Potro beat Federer at the U.S. Open final. And sure, Soderling defeated Nadal at the French Open. Despite all of these "sure's" who is to say one of these men will cede the power of the duo.
Roger Federer has been ranked World No. 1 seemingly since time started, only once dethroned of it by Nadal for about a year between mid-2008 through mid-2009. Federer will once again be deprived of his No. 1 ranking by Nadal, again, but will still be ranked No. 2. And only for a brief period was Nadal out of the Top 2, but at that time he was suffering from injuries, and amazingly, still ranked No. 3.
In my eyes, del Potro seems the most likely competition for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but who knows? He will probably suffer from more injuries later on in his flourishing career. Soderling seems to have peaked at the Majors. He seemed to have suffered a mid-season slump (like Federer), during the European clay season, but managed to put it together at Roland Garros, reaching the final for the second consecutive year, only to lose to Nadal.
Novak Djokovic is a difficult case. He sure has the talent, but his breathing problems and many other problems limit him. Novak has retired from quite a few of his matches, especially at majors, and sometimes blows huge leads to much lesser players, such as at the French Open quarters to Melzer.
Andy Murray is subject to immense amounts of pressure, especially at Major semis and finals. He has even extra unwanted weight on his shoulders at his home Grand Slam, Wimbledon. Also, his game needs some fine-tuning, such as improving his forehand, which is only used as means to block the ball back to his opponent. Murray's serve is quite fast, but not placed well. As Federer said before their championship match-up at this year's Australian Open, Federer said something about how the aggressive player will usually win over a defensive player in a match.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal also have what only champions have, supreme mental toughness and consistency. They also seem to peak at the right times, at Majors and Masters. (More so Nadal over Federer at Masters.) This dynamic duo always seem to step up the gear during pressure points, and usually manage to escape with the win. In addition to this, both Federer and Nadal are quite good on all three surfaces, shown by their excellence in the Majors, and the Masters.
Even though these two greats might have a losing record against Djokovic, Murray, del Potro, or Soderling, the two usually win the matches when something huge is on the line. Robin Soderling and Andy Murray also have an unwanted record to their names: Losing their first two Grand Slam finals in straight sets.
After a long awaited time, I think that the time will come to see who will be the next contender for the honorable position. Who knows? Maybe it won't be one of the other four. It will be very fascinating to see how this competition will unravel.