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By Ajay Tyagi
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The other day I came across an article about the most shocking upsets of all times in the Tennis Arena. There was Graf's first round exit in the 1994 Wimbledon, then there was Sampras' loss to Federer, back in 2001. But it seemed that everyone unanimously appreciated the idea that the No.1 spot went to none other than Rafael Nadal, who's four year winning streak at Roland Garros was snapped by Robin Soderling last year in the fourth round.
I believe the point I am trying to make is about the gravity of the expectations people and fans across the world have with their champion, Rafa. Last year, Nadal entered the tournament with three claycourt titles and a runner up finish as the favourite to win the title in Paris. This year, he entered Roland Garros with an unbeaten streak and a record three consecutive masters series crowns with only one thing in common - his opponent, Robin Soderling. The man from Sweden handed Nadal his most shocking defeat ever and reached the final. This year, Nadal has a superb chance to avenge his loss and settle scores with the feisty Swede.
We are not going to talk about the technical aspects of the finalists' game. No, we are not even going to discuss the level of fitness. Instead, we will try and understand who is the hungrier of the two to clinch title glory in Sunday's final. Once in a final, that's exactly what it boils down to - the determination and the hunger to win.
Nadal is everyone's favourite. His strokes are in place, fitness is of top level and the ferocity is trademark. To be honest, the man has not given me any reason to predict against him. Additionally, there is one more reason for Nadal to win - beat the man who got the BETTER of him last year. Fatigue is also not the concern as the Spaniard got a good two weeks of break after skipping the events in Barcelona and Dusseldorf. But Rafa is not insurmountable. He has his weaknesses too, shortcomings which not many can detect tilll he commits them during matches and gets away with, due to his ability to outdo his opponents both mentally and physically. Once Nadal is under pressure, he makes solid attempts at keeping the rallies as lengthy as possible to try and break the concentration of his opponents and in turn get his own rhythm back. If Soderling is able to keep his focus intact and take advantages of Nadal's mistakes to the fullest, he does have a chance.
Nadal's road to Finals -
R128 def. Gianni Mina 6-2 6-2 6-2
R64 def. Horacio Zeballos 6-2 6-2 6-3
R32 def. Lleyton Hewitt 6-3 6-4 6-3
R16 def. Thomaz Belluci 6-2 7-5 6-4
QF def. Nicolas Almagro 7-6 7-6 6-4
SF def. Jurgen Melzer 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(6)
But the story of the Swede's semifinal match against Berdych tells us something completely different. Soderling committed 63 unforced errors in addition to a whopping 62 winners but such statistics might work against him if the man on the other side is the unfathomable Nadal. One really impressive thing about Soderling's contendership is that he knows what it takes to beat Rafa, and that too on clay. Soderling's back-to-back wins over Nadal (in Paris and in London at the World Tour Finals) will definitely give him a psychological boost going into Sunday's final. After Federer's loss, Soderling emerged as the second best contender for the crown, now it's upto him to prove his mettle and claim the Grand slam glory on Parisian soil.
Soderling's road to Finals -
R128 def. Laurent Recouderc 6-0 6-2 6-3
R64 def. Taylor Dent 6-0 6-1 6-1
R32 def. Albert Montanes 6-4 7-5 2-6 6-3
R16 def. Marin Cilic 6-4 6-4 6-2
QF def. Roger Federer 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4
SF def. Tomas Berdych 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3
After taking several aspects into consideration, it is safe to say that the final will be a five set affair for sure. However, the 2010 French Open will end on a 'Nadalicious Note' it seems.
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