Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sports: Golden Opportunity

Usually around this time in Paris, tennis fans watch Rafael Nadal steamrolling the opposition in the French Open.

Not so this year. Nadal, the four-time French Open champion and the current number one-ranked player, was defeated today by an unlikely opponent - Robin Soderling, a little-known player from outside the top 10. In the match, Soderling used ferocious serving and forehands to dictate play, whipping Nadal from side to side and hitting over sixty winners.

While most of the credit for the win should go to Soderling for his aggressive play, it must be mentioned that Nadal, for whatever reason, was clearly not his usual self. Rafa's first serve speed was regularly in the 90 mph range - slow enough to be a liability instead of a weapon. His lefty forehand, usually so potent a weapon, lacked depth and precision; he dumped several into the net, which explains his high unforced error count.

The upset was stunning, but it also provided a tantalizing opportunity for the rest of the men's field. Still left in the draw are dangerous Frenchmen like Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, as well as a number of talented veterans like Andy Roddick and Nikolay Davydenko. No. 3-ranked Andy Murray also lurks in the background, and he's had a good tournament so far.

The front runner, though, has to be Roger Federer, three-time French Open finalist and winner of 13 Grand Slam tournaments. The Swiss master still needs the French Open to complete the career Grand Slam, and it's hard to imagine a better opening for him than this unlikely scenario.


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