Roger Federer defeated the last French player in the field Tuesday, scoring a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (3) straight-setter over Gael Monfils, who I’m hearing will move all the way to #6 in the world next week. The unsurprising win sets the stage for a rather large semifinal match with #2 Novak Djokovic, who was the beneficiary of a walkover by Fabio Fognini a day before his quarterfinal match with the Djoker was to be held.
This match itself is for the right to go to the finals at Roland Garros and play for a grand slam championship, but it means more than that to each player. For Federer, this match represents an opportunity to silence his critics by beating the unbeatable man, and getting a shot at a second career slam, and this time perhaps without the “didn’t have to beat Nadal” asterisk. It is also an opportunity to delay Djokovic’s ascent to the #1 ranking, which probably does not mean much to Federer personally, but surely Roger feels a little bit annoyed at the reports of his athletic demise.
As for Djokovic, a win against Federer would assure him the world #1 ranking next week, a subjective achievement that he has yet to attain. Additionally, a win in the semis would run his record in 2011 to 42-0, which would tie John McEnroe’s all-time record for best start to a season. Needless to say, the record could then be Djokovic’s by weekend’s end, but it would have to be accompanied by a more important accomplishment: the French Open title. If Djokovic is able to win this tournament, he would be the #1 ranked player, have the record for best start to a season at 43-0 and counting, grab a third career major, and be halfway to a 2011 calendar grand slam. Those are all pretty high stakes, and it will be interesting to see if Nole shows any signs of being weighed down by the meaning of it all. I doubt that he will, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be beaten by Federer.
The top half of the draw still has to be filled out, and most people expect Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray to complete the dream semifinals that fans have wanted for many consecutive slam events. But here are four reasons why it might not happen.
1. Robin Soderling, Nadal’s opponent on Wednesday, has had success here before. The #5 ranked player from Sweden has been the runner-up at Roland Garros the past two years.
2. Soderling is in the zone, while Nadal’s form has come under question.
3. Soderling is the only man who has ever beaten Nadal here at the French Open.
4. Andy Murray doesn’t exactly always take advantage of wide open draws.
Both matches tomorrow should be interesting, but I don’t think Murray v. Juan Ignacio Chela can hold a candle to Nadal v. Soderling as far as intrigue goes. It will be up to Murray as to whether or not he wants to get involved in a tough match, which he too often does. I would think Murray should be good to win here, and probably in three sets. If it goes five, watch out. As far as Nadal’s form goes, I think reports of it being down are greatly exaggerated. Look at his results. Three of his four wins have been in straight sets, and the one match that he had to go five in was the result of Nadal dropping two tie breakers. Soderling has also not dropped any “legitimate” sets; he dropped a tie breaker to American journeyman Ryan Harrison in the first round. I would love to see Soderling challenge and even get out to a lead in this match, but I don’t think anyone would make him a favorite. Gotta assume Nadal in four.