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1. Can Roger Federer finally beat Rafa Nadal in Paris?
One of the glaring holes in Roger Federer's dossier, apart from a Davis Cup title, is beating Rafael Nadal at the French Open.
This could be Federer's last chance. Next year, Juan Martin del Potro, if healthy, and Novak Djokovic figure to lessen the probability of a Roger-Rafa clash, with the Swiss more susceptible to defeat. If Ernests Gulbis continues to progress, the gun-slinging Latvian makes it a trio.
For now, with del Potro hurt, Djokovic unhealthy and struggling and Gulbis still a little too raw, odds are we will get a fourth French Open final between arguably the greatest of all time and the greatest of all time on dirt.
Lightning won't strike Rafa twice in Paris, and Federer will reach another major semifinal, a 24th in a row. When he gets there, he's usually impregnable. Only three times, in fact, has he walked away vanquished, undone by Marat Safin (now retired), Nadal (whom he can't face in the semis) and Djokovic.
Last Sunday's appetizer between the pair in Madrid, although not vintage Roger-Rafa circa the Wimbledon final of 2008 or Australian Open final a year later, was still fascinating. Nadal brings out the apprehension and nerves in Federer, which is normally something the 16-time Grand Slam champion does to everyone else on the tour.
Evidence came in the second game of Nadal's 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory. Presented with a short forehand, Federer was uncertain. He went with the inside-out forehand, not going full tilt, then didn't know whether to come in behind it or stay back. He chose the latter. Versus others, Federer would have gone for a winner and usually succeeded.
And how often does Federer blow a 4-2 lead in a tiebreaker?
The manner in which he dropped the next four points suggested more tension, triggering memories of their fifth set in Melbourne, won comfortably by Nadal. With Nadal flat-footed on the baseline and Federer well inside the court, a drop shot, specially made for the 23-year-old during last year's clay-court season, sailed into the net. A routine backhand and forehand went long before another backhand kissed the net. Four straight unforced errors. That was that. The Magic Box wasn't so magical this time around for Federer.
Nadal wasn't without flaws, however, which might give Federer some hope. Three times Nadal enjoyed a break lead (once in the first and twice in the second) and let it slip. The final game of the opener, Federer wasted four break points. It wasn't a blowout.
In the end, the decisive numbers tell the story: Nadal leads their head-to-head matches 14-7 and is 6-1 in their past seven. Over five sets and in slower conditions than Madrid, Federer needs to put on one of his finest performances and benefit from an off-form Nadal to prevail.