Nadal’s 31-match streak ends at the French Open

Sometimes greatness is taken for granted. Fans expect Florida or USC to be playing for a national title year in and year out, the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox battling for American League pennant every season. When it doesn’t take place, it throws the sports universe off base.

Well, another sports gimme has ended. Rafael Nadal’s unbeaten streak has ended at the French Open.

The four-time defending champion lost to Sweden’s Robin Soderling 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the round of 16 on Sunday, thus ending his 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros.

Here is the New York Times match account:

In his 31 previous matches at Roland Garros, Nadal had never been pushed to five sets in victory. He had not lost so much as a set in any match here since the 2007 final against Roger Federer, but Soderling changed all that with a varied but consistently aggressive approach: clubbing forehands with or without clear openings, serving big under pressure with the exception of the second-set tiebreaker and pushing forward to net on a semi-regular basis.

But Nadal, the Spaniard from Majorca who is seeded and ranked first, was clearly not the same irresistible force as usual. He failed to generate depth consistently, which allowed Soderling the space to keep applying pressure. He made errors off the ground from positions where he would normally generate winners or high-bouncing shots to the corners. He also looked, at times, less convincing than normal on defense, as Soderling made him stretch and then stretch some more.

But Soderling, an erratic player with a reputation for cracking under pressure, still had to summon the gumption and the shots to do what no other player had done in the five years since Nadal emerged with his topspin forehand, two-handed backhand and matador’s brio. With Nadal down, 1-2, in the fourth-set tiebreaker, Soderling ripped a backhand pass that Nadal could not handle and on the next point, Nadal made an uncharacteristic unforced error with his backhand.

It was 4-1, and it would soon be 6-1 when Nadal’s forehand pass hit the tape. Nadal would save the first match point he had ever faced at Roland Garros with a forehand winner down the line, but on the next point, he moved forward and pushed a forehand volley just wide.

Soderling pumped his fist, quickly shook Nadal’s hand and then the umpire’s hand, as well. Only then did he show just how much this moment meant to him, running back on court, throwing back his closely cropped head and roaring with delight before tossing his racket into the stands.

Earlier this season, Nadal defeated Soderling in straight sets on the clay surface at a tournament in Rome. The Swede has never advanced this far in a Grand Slam tournament before, as the deepest he went was the third round at the 2007 Wimbledon.

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Has their free-spending ways caught up with the Yankees?

Harvey Araton of The New York Times wrote an interesting piece about the current state of the New York Yankees and how their erratic spending has caught up to them. (Or will catch up to them in the near future.)

Alex RodriguezThe most common contemporary take on the Yankees is that their deep pockets do not guarantee championship success, just the ability to withstand expensive mistakes (Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Roger Clemens in 2007) that would level lesser-endowed clubs. But given higher stakes and increased risk, for how long?

With a personnel infrastructure almost as old as the stadium they are vacating, with an overhyped or underachieving farm system, how do the Yankees meet the terms of their aforementioned deal with their fans without sending the newly re-signed general manager, Brian Cashman, on a pressurized spending spree that would compromise the financial restraint he preached in passing on Johan Santana last winter?

“A $40 million mistake four years ago could be a $120 million mistake today, like Barry Zito and the Giants,” Ganis said. “And by the way, if you’re the Yankees and you’re paying the luxury tax, it’s $175 million.”

Yankee tax dollars subsidize smaller markets. The more the Yankees spend without optimum return, the greater the odds of a Tampa Bay rising up against them. The richer and longer a contract the Yankees hand out, the more they are stuck with the status quo, for better or worse.

Take A-Rod. He’s a force of nature now, but if his skills erode sooner than later, the Yankees may want to say, “Take him, please.” At the price they paid, good luck with that, and with selling those overpriced seats long term in their expensive new house if safer, smarter investments are not soon made.

Excellent points all the way around. People want to bitch about how the Yankees can buy every player they want, but fail to see that it’s only hurting them in the end. The strategy of buying and trading for every All-Star on the market has worked for NY in the past, but they didn’t make the playoffs this year. What happens when they go hog wild in spending next offseason and miss the postseason yet again? They’re only digging themselves further and further in finical hell and not getting anything out of it.

Here’s a shocker – maybe the Tampa Bay Rays had it right all along. Don’t overspend (not that they could anyway with the market they’re in, but that’s besides the point), harvest their young talent and build a winner for the future. Well guess what? The future is now for the Rays while the Yankees continue to get burned by the past.

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