COMMENTARY | Events often occur with such speed that it's impossible to truly fathom their historical significance within the moment.
Take for instance the fact that one of the greatest tennis rivalries the game has ever seen, between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, already seems to have passed us by.
In one instant, they were contesting what many have called the greatest match in the history of the sport. In the next, their now predictable pattern of play appears to be fading in the rear-view mirror.
There was a time when a potential meeting between Federer and Nadal resonated through the world like a mountain-sized version of Pavlov's famous bell, forcing tennis fans everywhere to drool in anticipation.
It felt during those periods as if there would never again be a time such as that, at least not in this era of the sport.
The two players, each with a plethora of natural gifts and nearly identical inner drive, faced off like two heavenly bodies set on an unavoidable collision course.
The likelihood that such a riveting rivalry could be followed up almost immediately by another is simply beyond comprehension. Even as that exact scenario unfolds before us.
What can be understood right now is that two extremely talented tennis players will take the court this Friday, June 7 in the semifinals at Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal enters the match seeking to advance to his eighth French Open final in nine tries. On the other side of the net, Novak Djokovic will be fighting for the chance to continue his quest for that one missing piece in his Grand Slam resume.
Unlike the Federer-Nadal rivalry, there is still much at stake between Djokovic and Nadal. Like tectonic activity beneath the Earth, there are hidden forces within these two players struggling to set the course of tennis history.
Although Nadal started off the rivalry going 14-4 against Djokovic in their first 18 meetings, Djokovic has seemingly solved Nadal's game in recent years and since taken 11 of their last 16 matches.
Like two young bucks, their horns are locked together in a epic battle of stamina and strategy. A fact that was never more evident than during their near six-hour match during the Australian Open final in 2012.
It's this back and forth that makes their upcoming battle such a mouth-watering prospect.
After 34 previous meetings, it's still not clear which player will ultimately lay claim to the winning side of the rivalry.
And this particular match could have much broader implications in answering that question.
Nadal simply must defend his turf against Djokovic this Friday, or risk further erosion in his position against the rise of Djokovic. Much like Federer was once overcome at Wimbledon by Nadal, and never fully regained his footing.
On the other hand, if Nadal does somehow prevail once again on the clay of Paris, the Spaniard may be well-positioned to reassert himself in the other Slams.
Unlike other tournaments, where play is either ceased or moved under a roof, the French Open is often contested under a wider range of conditions. As seen in 2012, the whimsies of Mother Nature will likely play an integral role in the outcome this year.
At this point, it's probably no secret that warm and sunny conditions are expected during the semifinal this Friday. It's also no secret that Nadal's game is more comfortable in that climate. The only question that remains is whether Rafa can leverage those conditions should they arrive as expected.
This certainly won't be the last time Djokovic and Nadal contest an important match. But the outcome will most definitely affect the tone of later meetings.
Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. He is a frequent contributor at the Bleacher Report.
- Sports & Recreation
- Rafael Nadal
- Roger Federer
- Novak Djokovic