June 3, 2015

The King Is Dethroned

It's the end of an era at the French Open.

Much as many thought/feared, Rafael Nadal's record thirty-nine match win streak at Roland Garros came to an end at the hands of Novak Djokovic today, with his quest for a historic tenth title in Paris stopping in the quarterfinals.

It was just Nadal's second loss at the French -- since he first hit these red clay courts in 2005, he's racked up a more-than-intimidating 70-1 record, falling only in 2009 to then-unknown Robin Soderling.

Wednesday's defeat may not have been quite as shocking -- the Swede was ranked just #25 in the world at the time, a far cry from Nole's top spot. And Djokovic did win the pair's last meeting in Monte Carlo last April, as a famously struggling Rafa, with just one tiny trophy this year, put together one of his least prolific seasons to date.

But that doesn't make the Spaniard's exit any less significant.

Nadal had won more matches at this tournament than any other man in history and, winning better than ninety-seven percent of his matches here, outstripped all players at any Major. His nine titles are more than anyone -- including legends like Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl or Bjorn Borg -- had ever claimed at a single event. Even when he wasn't a favorite, he somehow managed to pull through. And this year, as the sixth seed -- easily his lowest position since he first took the trophy a decade ago -- many still expected he'd come away with a championship.

But even more important might be what Rafa's departure means for the rest of the field. His loss six years ago paved the way for Roger Federer to complete the career Grand Slam -- and this year might very well be Novak Djokovic's turn. The top-ranked Serb has lost on these courts three years in a row to the King of Clay, and after finally turning the tables on him there seems to be no stopping him.

As for everybody else -- they've certainly been served notice that there's a new man to beat at Roland Garros. And when Nadal comes back next year, you can be sure he'll be hungrier than ever to reclaim the crown.

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