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Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer: Where Are They?

Gregory LanzenbergCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2011

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 16: Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland enjoy the day during the 'Rally For Relief' charity exhibition match ahead of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 16, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

February and December are probably the worst months of the year in men's tennis—it is the period when the best players take a break.

Roger Federer is at a stage of his career where only Grand Slams matter, while Rafael Nadal is nursing a hamstring injury. More over, Rafa does not like to play indoors.

Relax tennis alligators, Roger is back on tour at Dubai this week, while the World number one will play the Davis Cup first round for Spain in Belgium the week after.

Meanwhile, San Jose, Marseille, Memphis, Rotterdam and the clay court tournaments in South America are played with weaker fields.

February is also the best period for all the other players to take advantage of this month.

Söderling, Roddick, Verdasco and many young players can enjoy a few weeks of the year without having the burden of having to play against the world's best.

Since Mirka Federer gave birth to twin girls, it's obvious that the man from Switzerland has different priorities.

Roger used to play at least 20 tournaments a year when he was younger. However, after winning 16 Grand Slam titles on all surfaces and having been World number one for five years, his goals are different than those of a 20-year-old.

In order to have chances at future Grand Slams, Federer must play the Masters 1000 with more conviction—at Indian Wells, Key Biscayne, Rome, Madrid, Montreal and Cincinnati.

The Swiss missed few key points last year at Roland Garros—against Söderling, Wimbledon, against Berdych and the US Open and against Djokovic—especially because he was not focused enough on those points.

In 2010, Federer did not play in Indian Wells and Miami with the intention of winning the tournament.

He lost to Marcos Baghdatis in the second round of Palm Springs and to Tomas Berdych in the last 16 round of Key Biscayne.

Believe it or not, these loses did not help him when crunch time happened at the French, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows.

Therefore, under the tutelage of Paul Annacone, we should see the Swiss with much more implication this year. Federer will be making his return on the tour this week in Dubai.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal is preparing to defend close to 10,000 points in order to keep his number one spot.

The World Number One has learned over the years he should reduce his schedule in order to be competitive in the bigger tournaments.

Of course the hamstring injury, caught in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, allowed the Spaniard to have a little more time to rest and prepare for the first part of the north American hard court season and the clay court swing in Europe leading up to the French Open.

Why should Nadal play in Memphis, Rotterdam, or San Jose when he knows he does not have much to gain from playing them?

Elsewhere, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray needed to rest also after reaching the Australian Open final, with the Serb winning his second career major.

Like Nadal, Djokovic and Murray don't have much to gain from playing Rotterdam, or Marseille.

They also understand they can play well enough to be at least a semi-finalist in the Masters 1000 events, which gives more ATP points than they would receive from winning the minor events.

Who took advantage of this situation?

Sweden's Robin Söderling, who won two successive indoor events in Rotterdam and Marseille.

In the absence of the clay court king, Spain's Nicolas Almagro won two successive titles on clay in Costa do Sauipe and Buenos Aires.

Canada's Milos Raonic also made headlines over the last couple of weeks.

There was great news also from former World number one Andy Roddick, who claimed his 30th career title after struggling to beat Raonic in the final.

It's a very interesting situation because it shows who will be threatening the world's best when they compete against each other later this year.

It is not shocking news to have seen Söderling, Roddick and Almagro triumph over the last couple of weeks.

However, Milos Raonic definitely made a name for himself.

The Canadian was a picture of calm in the San Jose final, cutting world No. 9 Fernando Verdasco apart 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5). The Spaniard was eventually left cursing his luck and Raonic’s precision serve.

Playing his first ATP 500 tournament of his career, the Canadian confirmed his San Jose title by reaching the final in Memphis.

Keep in mind that the 20-year-old started his season ranked No. 156, which means he jumped 119 places over the last six weeks. He is now the World number 37.

Therefore, Raonic becomes the highest ranked Canadian singles player in the history of the ATP.

The mental attitude of this champion is stunning. Nothing seems to get him upset during a match.

He reminds me of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer attitudes on the court.

Meanwhile, the world will be watching carefully to see if Raonic can challenge Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray.

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