Opportunity knocks for Nadal's challengers

Martin Rogers

When Rafael Nadal prevailed in that Wimbledon final for the ages 50 weeks ago it was a triumph built on superhuman strength, force of will and ferocious determination.

As the Spaniard scaled the dark green walls of Centre Court to celebrate with his family, then graciously accepted the greatest prize in tennis, one thing was blindingly obvious: If Nadal was to surrender his title he had battled so tirelessly for, it would take something remarkable to wrest it away from him.

In the end, though, it didn't take a perfect performance from an inspired rival, a revenge mission from Roger Federer or even an off-day for the world No.1 to end Nadal's reign as the king of the All England Club.

It was instead a chink in the game's most revered physical armor, a damaged knee that knocked the 23-year-old out of the draw before hostilities had even commenced on the hallowed London lawns.

No man since Goran Ivanisevic in 2002 has been unable to defend his Wimbledon title. The popular joke surrounding Ivanisevic was that he couldn't play as he was still drunk from his long and wild celebrations 12 months earlier. In the case of Nadal, there is simply nothing to laugh about.

Such is the nature of his superb rivalry with Federer that tennis fans feel cheated when the opportunity for another meeting between these two titans of modern sport is wrenched away.

For British fans, there are mixed feelings. Nadal was a popular and dignified champion 12 months ago, but his absence gives home favorite Andy Murray a tremendous chance of making further progress.

Nadal will spirit himself back to his home in Mallorca, back into the bosom of his family and away from the scene of his finest hour.

With him out of the way, opportunity arises for many.

Andy Roddick has a chance to be one of the beneficiaries. The American was on course to meet Nadal in the quarterfinal, but now has a clearer path to the semis than he could have realistically hoped for as sixth seed.

Murray too, will be encouraged, if indeed he dares allow himself to look as far forward as the last four.

Nadal swept Murray aside in the quarters last year, now the emerging Scot is favored to step into history by giving the locals something to shout about deep into the second week.

Then, of course, there is Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro's love affair with SW19 was rocked by his final defeat to Nadal last year, but this is still a man with five Wimbledon titles to his name and a perfect grass court game.

Federer will see nothing that should seriously bother him until late, late in week two. Even Novak Djokovic, the world No.4 and a potential semifinal opponent, would be a massive underdog against Federer.

So while many may stand to benefit from Nadal's misfortune, only one can truly capitalize on the champion's injury. Two weeks from now, there will be a name other than Nadal's under his on the trophy – but chances are it will be a familiar one.


Semifinals: Murray beats Roddick, Federer beats Djokovic

Final: Federer beats Murray