For the first time in years, someone not named Nadal or Federer is the favorite to win a Slam.
Rafael Nadal stepped onto the clay at Roland Garros as a professional for the first time in 2005. Since then, Nadal has gone 38-1 at the French Open, the lone loss to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.
Nadal’s been even more dominant in Paris than his record would show. He did not drop a single set en route to winning his last two French Open titles (2008 and 2010). Yet at this year’s tournament, which begins Sunday, Novak Djokovic will be the player getting all the attention.
Djokovic has won 37 straight matches to start the 2011 season, five matches short of the Open Era record set by John McEnroe in 1984. Tack on his last two matches of 2010 at Davis Cup and the Serbian’s win streak is at 39, the sixth longest in the Open Era. Guillermo Vilas holds the record at 46 straight set in 1977.
Even more impressive is that seven of Djokovic’s 37 wins this season have come against Roger Federer and Nadal. According to the ATP, Djokovic is the first player to beat both Nadal and Federer three straight times.
Longest Open Era Win Streaks
To Start Season
All four of Djokovic’s wins against Nadal this year have come in a final, including the last two on clay. Nadal held a lifetime 16-7 record against Djokovic entering 2011, including 9-0 on clay.
Nadal's grasp on the world No. 1 ranking is slipping. In order for him to maintain the top spot, he must win the French and Djokovic must lose prior to the final. Anything else and Djokovic will be the new No. 1 in two weeks. The last player ranked No. 1 other than Nadal or Federer was Andy Roddick in 2004.
It’s not often that Federer is the third favorite at a Grand Slam, but that’s the case this year at the French Open. For the first time since winning his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003, Federer is not the defending champion at any of the Grand Slams. In fact, Federer has not reached the final of a Grand Slam since winning the Australian Open in 2010.
That being said, Federer is still a threat in any tournament and has reached the quarterfinals in 27 straight Grand Slams, more than twice as long as the next longest streak in the Open Era. Ivan Lendl reached 13 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals from 1985 to 1989.