- French Open, Day Three
Nadal & Murray hint at upsets to come
Over the opening few days of the 2012 French Open, there have at least been a few hints that the men's competition may not be quite as predictable as we have come to expect.
Before the tournament most observers expected the top four seeds - Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray - to be battling it out in the semi-finals, just as was the case 12 months ago.
Murray, after an unusually underwhelming clay court campaign, may have been the biggest doubt of the quartet, but few seriously expect the winner to come from anywhere beyond those big four names.
That's entirely reasonable, not to mention predictable (after all, those four have won 27 of the last 28 majors). But there was evidence, certainly on Tuesday, that a shock is not impossible.
Okay, both Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray won in straight sets. But they both gave up at least one break of serve to players woefully inferior to them in almost every aspect, and both suggested that they are not quite at the very top of their games at this point in time.
Yes, the gap between the top four (even, arguably, the top three) and the rest is sizeable, but it is not so big that someone like Tomas Berdych cannot knock off one of them if he is on song and they are ever-so-slightly out of kilter.
Nadal, for example, did not look like a man who had won 45 of 46 matches on the Roland Garros clay on Tuesday as he faced the prospect of losing his third game in a row to Simone Bolelli; two of those on his own serve. The Spaniard quickly recovered to save two break points and hold the game - but for that brief, ten-minute window he looked very much like a player who could be beaten.
Murray was in a similar position. At the start of his match with Tatsuma Ito spectators were led to wonder if Ito had ever played the sport before, so woeful was his play as he coughed up endless unforced errors. But as the Japanese settled down he managed to cause his Scottish opponent problems, breaking his serve in the second set before squandering a 0-40 opportunity to repeat the experience.
Murray regrouped in time to prevent the wobble resulting in a dropped set, but nevertheless he looked remarkably ropey against an opponent he had never played before and whom looked overwhelmed by the occasion of his French Open debut.
Regardless of the eventual straight-sets victories, the point remains that Nadal and Murray were not impressive in wins over players whose talent levels did not quite match their motivation.
For fans of incidental trivia, there is further reason to fear for the Spaniard. Wearing hot pink on Tuesday (and presumably for the rest of the tournament), the last time Nadal wore that colour at Roland Garros was in 2009 - the year of his only defeat, to Robin Soderling in the fourth round.
The draw might help Nadal avoid a similar fate in that regard - perhaps the most dangerous potential opponent not named Andy Murray, Nicolas Almagro, has to go through the Brit before he has any prospect of facing Nadal, while Murray himself is far and away the easiest of the prospective 'big four' semi-final opponents.
Nadal will have to be careful against the likes of Florian Mayer and especially Juan Monaco, both extremely capable players, but no potential opponent in his quarter of the draw stands out like Soderling (who, due to illness, remains absent this year) did three years ago.
Of course, the overwhelming likelihood is that, come next week, the final four-man line-up in the tournament is comprised of the old usual suspects. A couple of glitches do not automatically mean a meltdown is in the offing, but there was at least enough evidence on Tuesday to suggest that - in the bottom half of the draw - Nadal and Murray are not the sure-fire bets their records and seeding would suggest them to be.
Considering his build-up and the current state of his game, Murray could well be out before his scheduled semi-final meeting with Nadal. Maybe, though (and it really is no more than a 'maybe') Nadal isn't quite where he wants to be either.
Six wins in seven years, 46 matches won from 47 - these are records that can only get worse. This year might be the year.