This clay is on fire.
With what's to transpire."
- Kings of Leon. Sorta.
There's been plenty of opportunity on both tours to make some major moves in both the rankings and general pecking order of late, with a vulnerable ATP and WTA No 1 and a near-bottleneck for No 2. But at no point has a single month promised to shake things up so dramatically. Forthwith, the 5 Most Burning Questions on the mad dash to the Dirty Slam.
1. WHO'S THE BOSS, ROGER OR RAFA?
Months ago, it seemed unheard of that Nadal would have any real crack at the top spot. His knee was garbage and Federer won the Australian Open, giving him a crazy huge lead in the rankings (No 9 Fernando Verdasco could give No 2 Novak Djokovic all his ranking points for his birthday and Nole still wouldn't be able to pass Fed at No 1). But then a funny thing happened. Rafa came alive, on hard court no less. And Roger lost two third-set tiebreakers in Indian Wells and Miami to players who had no business beating him (Marcos Baghdatis and Tomas Berdych had a combined 1-14 head-to-head against the Swiss Mister), and that had everyone, from fans to Roger himself, scratching their heads. For all the talk of the points Rafa had to defend on the clay - for the record, 3280 - Federer has more. 3450 to be exact. And Rafa's already defended 1000 of them in Monte Carlo, where lost a mere 14 games en route to the title, including a pantsing of a more-than-in-form Verdasco in the final. Rafa's match tough on the red stuff. Roger, To Be Determined. Nadal may not be able to catch up to Federer on clay, but with no grass points to defend, how the clay plays out will surely dictate who's top dog come the green stuff.
PS, Roger and Rafa haven't played each other in nearly a year, which is both shocking and personally revolting. Expect that to change as the two best dirtballers on tour meet in at least one final.
Is she back?
2. IS JUSTINE REALLY BACK OR IS SHE JUST PLAYING WITH US?
A ridiculous question considering Henin finished runner-up in her first major back and sits at No 3 in the Race. But the Justine of old would never have lost to Gisela Dulko at Indian Wells, and in such nightmarish fashion. The Justine we're all waiting for, and the rest of the tour is dreading, hoists trophies (something she hasn't done yet). A lot of them. She downs Serena in Slam quarterfinals. She's a killer robot from the future. Henin's won 35 sets in a row at Roland Garros, so the red stuff is her playground. Is clay where she brushes the Williams sisters aside and breaks away from the pack, or is this gentler, more human Justine simply that?
3. IS IT 2003 ALL OVER AGAIN?
Everything old has been new again in 2010, and for once I'm not talking about Belgians. Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Venus Williams are all playing some of the scariest tennis of their careers, and they're all pushing 40. Give or take. They've each pocketed multiple titles and scalped a lot of spring chickens in the process. How much longer can they keep this up?
4. SERBIA OR BUST?
The Three's Company of tennis have been through some major hijinks of late. Novak Djokovic seems to have caught Ana Ivanovic's serving hiccups and Jelena Jankovic, though hot off an Indian Wells title, is in the throes of a wrist issue, dumping out to Daniela Hantuchova in Charleston. All of them would love to find their footing on clay and shake their collective rust once and for all. For the love of ajde.
5. CAN THIS CAREER BE SAVED?
A shocking number of marquee players have not just been hampered by injuries, they've been stopped dead in their careers by them. Serena Williams (knee), Juan Martin del Potro (wrist) and Dinara Safina (back) have been M.I.A. since the Australian Open, and Maria Sharapova (bone bruise) and Nikolay Davydenko (wrist) have been sidelined since Indian Wells. Throw aging stalwarts David Nalbandian (hamstring), Tommy Haas (shoulder) and James Blake (knee) on the heap and things start to get even more serious. Sharapova, who must be sick of staging comebacks on her worst surface, has a quarterfinal appearance at the French to defend. Del Potro and particularly Safina have so much more to lose. Who's even making it back on the clay, who's going to be playing catch-up the rest of the year, and whose best days are behind them?
Lots of burning questions. Think you've got the answers? Hit me up here or at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.