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With nine-times champion Rafael Nadal withdrawing from the French Open due to a wrist injury, a massive opportunity has opened up for world number one Novak Djokovic to finally complete his career Grand Slam.
As Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka progressed with minimal fuss on day six, the tournament was suddenly turned on its head when it was announced that Nadal was forced to withdraw due to a persistent wrist injury.
He had been due to play compatriot Marcel Granollers in the third round. The Spaniard, who turns 30 next week, had dropped just nine games in his opening two matches, showing that he still has the hunger to win another Grand Slam title.
But his chances of a record tenth title at Roland Garros will have to wait at least another 12 months after it was decided that the wrist injury he had sustained in Madrid was not worth risking for up to another five matches.
“I have to retire from the tournament because I have a problem in my wrist that I have since a couple of weeks,” Nadal said.
“I arrived here with a little bit of pain but I thought it was something I would be able to manage, but every day it got a bit worse.
“We spent a lot of hours here to try to play and yesterday I played with an injection in the wrist and anaesthetic. I could play but there was more and more pain and this morning I could feel that I could not move my wrist much.
“I came here, had an MRI and the results are not positive. It’s not 100 per cent – it’s not broken but if I keep playing it’s going to be broken in the next couple of days.”
The 14-times Grand Slam champion’s withdrawal removes the biggest obstacle from the path to the final of top seed Novak Djokovic, who has previously reached the final three times. He was denied twice by Nadal (2012 and 2014) and once by Stan Wawrinka last year.
But in saying that, Djokovic is one of only two men (the other being Robin Soderling) to ever defeat the Spaniard on the Parisian red clay, and the only man to do so in straight sets, in the quarter-finals last year.
His biggest chance to win the French Open for the first time came 12 months ago after he’d defeated Nadal and Andy Murray consecutively en route to the final, but found an inspired Wawrinka too good for him in the championship match.
It was suggested that Djokovic having to play his semi-final against Murray across two days, and the fact that the match went to five sets, may have played a role in his defeat, which was his only one at Grand Slam level in 2015.
By contrast, Wawrinka had the longer break after playing, completing and winning his semi-final match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before Djokovic and Murray had their match suspended at three-all in the fourth set.
While they resumed on the Saturday, Wawrinka was able to rest his feet and relax, and that crucially played a role in his victory, which he achieved in four sets after having lost the opening set 6-4.
Djokovic and Wawrinka are again drawn to face off in the championship match, as they were at the Australian Open earlier this year, and so a repeat final is the most likely outcome though the latter may have to face Murray in the final four.
Before that can happen, the two must navigate through their respective draws with top-ranked Djokovic to play Slovenian-turned-Brit Aljaz Bedene in his third round match and Wawrinka up against Serb Viktor Troicki in the fourth round.
Murray, on the other hand, faces another servebot in John Isner after having defeated Croat Ivo Karlovic in straight sets. That followed consecutive five-set cliffhangers against Radek Stepanek and Mathias Bourgue in the earlier rounds.
Should the Scot reach the quarter-finals for the seventh consecutive time, then one of Kei Nishikori or Richard Gasquet will await. Both scored straight sets victories over Fernando Verdasco and Nick Kyrgios respectively overnight.
On the women’s side of things, second seed Agnieszka Radwanska moved through to the fourth round after defeating Czech veteran Barbora Strycova in straight sets. Next for the 27-year-old is former Wimbledon finalist Tsvetana Pironkova.
For Radwanska to snatch the world number one ranking from defending champion Serena Williams after the French Open, the Pole must reach the final and hope that the top-seeded American fails to do likewise.
Otherwise, an early loss will see Williams retain the world number one ranking regardless of how she fares herself for the remainder of the tournament. However, the American still has to defend maximum points at Wimbledon next month.
2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova also advanced after defeating compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets. She next faces Spanish fourth seed Garbine Muguruza for a place in the quarter-finals.
Matches involving Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Williams sisters and Ana Ivanovic, among others, were yet to be played at the time of this article being written. Most, if not all, are expected to make it to final four.
Back on topic to finish off, and after the injury-enforced withdrawal of Rafael Nadal, the chances of Novak Djokovic finally lifting the La Coupe des Mousquetaires for the very first time is one that he must take with both hands.
Berdych, Ferrer (both in the quarter-finals) and Tsonga (semi-finals) now loom as the three biggest threats in the Serb’s half of the draw, but whether they can knock him off will remain to be seen. Murray and Wawrinka, seeded second and third respectively, cannot be encountered by the Djoker until the final.