And Then There Were Four: Rafael Nadal Seeks to Restore Order in 2010
Jurgen Melzer is the oldest and shortest player in the mix and seems to have at best a Cinderella story chance at taking the crown. Melzer is left handed and this could be a bit of an equalizer against Rafael Nadal, but Melzer is the least likely to claim the crown. Rafael Nadal may not be as bellicose as Jimmy Connors, but he is every bit the killer on court that Jimbo was. This match is lopsided on paper. Perhaps Melzer can hand the chair umpire a stopwatch at the beginning of the match in hopes of unnerving Nadal and forcing Rafa to play more quickly than he would like. Still, Melzer will likely be able to smile about his semifinal finish. It is good that he can draw joy from this as he will likely not be able to enjoy a playing on Sunday.
Nadal versus Chaos on Tour
The 2010 season has been marked by inconsistent play from most of the 2009 season’s top players. Nikolay Davydenko and Juan Martin del Potro get a pass due to injuries. Roger Federer and Andy Murray may have drank too much Australian beer, for different reasons, after the Australian Open ended. Each man has played most of 2010 with a hangover. Andy Roddick has had a nice 2010, but he took a leave of absence during the clay court season. Novak Djokovic has been to the quarterfinals or further at each of the past four Grand Slam events, but seems to be a player in need of direction and confidence. To be fair, Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer, Ernests Gulbis, Thomas Berdych and Marin Cilic have all had some highlights in 2010 prior to the French Open, but Verdasco was the only one of these players to finish 2009 among the top 10.
The one major exception seems to be Rafael Nadal who has been a model of consistency in 2010. Nadal played well at Qatar, the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami. Rafa has been back to his usual dominant self on clay. This leaves him poised to reclaim the #1 ranking and leave a big rankings gap for the rest of the tour to chase. Nadal can be a sheriff and restore order to a tour that has been disorderly since January.
The Open Effect?
Andre Agassi praised Thomas Berdych’s talent while questioning his maturity in describing their 2005 U.S. Open match. Marcos Baghdatis seemed to draw inspiration from Andre Agassi’s Open. Baghdatis has had improved results in 2010. Berdych has had even more dramatic growth in 2010. He has laid waste to his quarter of the draw in a manner that would make even Godzilla envious. His French Open results combined with his strong showing in Miami make Berdych a player of note once again. My take on Berdych at the close of 2009 was he was a dangerous floater, but a player who lacked the toughness needed to ever contend for tennis’ top prizes. His losses to Nadal at Wimbledon 2007, Roddick at U.S. Open 2007 and Federer at Australian Open 2009 solidified this reputation in my mind. Berdych has a chance to prove everyone wrong and be the player that drove Nadal crazy in 2006 and knocked Federer out of the Olympics in 2004.
Robin Soderling played ruthless power tennis in the final three sets against Roger Federer. He also held his nerve not to drop serve early in the second set and to save a set point in the third set. The confidence he needed to beat a man who eliminated him from contention at the 2009 French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open is a sign that Soderling is for real. The heavy conditions in Paris during most of this event have to remind Soderling of home. If conditions remain heavy and he finds a way past the red hot Berdych, Soderling will set up an epic rematch that he can win. Soderling winning might add some chaos to the tour, but maybe the dual monarchy that has reigned since 2005 needs to be broken before a new order can emerge.
My Pick – Soderling
My head says Nadal is the odds on favorite to win this event. I have thought this since Monte Carlo ended. However, Soderling may be able to back up last year’s results. Soderling has the tougher semifinal match, conditions may cease to be heavy and Nadal is the favorite regardless of how heavy things are. Still, my gut over rules my head and says Soderling completes a remarkable 54 week transformation from talented also ran to top 10 player to Grand Slam champion.
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