Player: Rafael Nadal
Current Ranking: 2
Today's Result: loss to Novak Djokovic (1st seed, Serbia) in five sets
Photo via Scrape TV
It's only January and I expect we've already seen the match of the year. The Djokovic-Nadal rivalry needed a match like this: one to rank among the all-time greats. Djokovic proved himself a true warrior, his victory a worthy tribute to the spirit Nadal has brought to the sport as well as a demonstration of his own current mastery over the Spaniard. I don't care much for Chris Fowler but I must credit him for hitting the nail on the head with this summation:
Pat McEnroe, after one of so many breathtaking rallies: "What can you say?"
Fowler: "Thank you, to both men."
Even Rod Laver looked a little uncomfortable being asked to share in the moment with these current titans. You could tell he knew the night wasn't about him at all.
That had to be a tough loss for Nadal but he did well just to force the match to go the distance. Even with the loss, he's managed to close the gap between Djokovic and himself in the rankings. Rafa lost in the quarters last year so he'll build on his own points whereas Novak had to win today just to defend his. The admittedly enviable disadvantage to Djokovic's tremendous 2011 season is that he'll enter just about every event this year with champion points to protect. Nadal's way too good to allow the Serb to ever rest on his laurels.
What will the next chapter in Paris bring? Regardless of what happens between now and then, Rafa will have to be the favorite to win. The draw will be crucial, I think. Which of them will have to contend with Federer in the semis? For Nadal, it probably doesn't matter but surely, Djokovic would rather face Murray or, frankly, anyone but Fed.