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Beyond Rafa: What we learned

PARIS -- And so it's au revoir to the clay-court season. As you read this, the best tennis players in the world are gathered at clubs in London, Halle, Germany, and Birmingham, trying to assimilate the slippery slope that is grass.

They will convene in two week's time at the All England Club when the Wimbledon championships begin.

That said, it's never too late to learn. Here are the 10 things we learned on the men's side during the fortnight at Roland Garros:

No. 10: Sometimes it's not good to be French at the French Open -- just ask Gilles Simon.

The locals at Court Philippe Chatrier pulled hard for Simon as he was losing the first set (6-1) to the revered Roger Federer in a fourth-round match. But something peculiar happened when Simon won the next two sets. The French turned on him and tried to rally Federer back into the match.

It worked. Federer won in five and afterward called the crowd "fair." Simon wouldn't have agreed.

No. 9: Clay, apparently, is an acquired taste.

How else to explain the renaissance of the old folks here? There were no fewer than 29 men in the draw age 30 or older, and five of them reached the round of 16.

Thirty-five-year-old Tommy Haas was the most conspicuous, racing into the quarterfinals -- his best performance here ever -- where he lost to Novak Djokovic. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 28, made a career-best semifinal in his sixth tournament at Roland Garros.

No. 8: Men's tennis is becoming more predictable than women's tennis.

The top four seeds at the Australian Open all made the final four and in Paris, on the unstable surface of, well, dirt, four of the top six seeds made the semifinals. No. 2 Federer and No. 5 Tomas Berdych were the only ones to drop the ball.

For the ninth straight Grand Slam, three of the top four seeds reached the semifinals.

No. 7: John Isner may extraordinarily long and lean, but he sure has a lot of guts.

This is the former Georgia Bulldog, who three years ago went 11 hours, 5 minutes to win the longest match ever (70-68 in the fifth set at Wimbledon) and played the second-longest match ever at Roland Garros, losing to Paul-Henri Mathieu in 5 hours, 41 minutes.

In this year's third round, he battled Tommy Haas and lost 10-8 in the fifth. The match was a relatively swift 4 hours, 37 minutes. This, mind you, coming a round after he knocked off compatriot Ryan Harrison in a paltry 3-hours, 50-minute 8-6 five-setter.

No. 6: Federer is (sadly) rapidly becoming mortal.

After breezing against qualifiers in the first two rounds, Federer was pushed by Julien Benneteau in the third and almost taken out by Simon in the fourth. Against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals, Federer looked older than his 31 years.

His quarterfinal streak at the majors is now at 36, but one wonders if it will soon come to an end. Perhaps at Wimbledon on the 10th anniversary of his first Grand Slam singles victory?

No. 5: The Bryan Brothers, against all odds, seems to be getting … better with age.

The strapping twins from Camarillo, Calif., just turned 35 and yet they are still tearing it up in doubles. They won the Australian Open earlier this year for their 13th Grand Slam doubles title, then won in Rome for their 88th ATP World Tour title. Both are records. Oh, and then they won the French Open, for only the second time and the first since 2003. They now have a chance to win their first-ever, calendar-year Grand Slam.

No. 4: Kei Nishikori is ready to take the next step.

The 23-year-old from Japan got to the fourth round here, losing to seven-time champion Rafael Nadal. There's no shame in that -- or falling to David Ferrer in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Nishikori, a product of Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, is a beautiful ball-striker. Last year he got to the third round at Wimbledon. Odds are, he'll go deeper this year.

No. 3: David Ferrer, the little Spanish engine that could, can make it to the last match of a major.

In his 42nd Grand Slam appearance, he reached a final for the very first time -- the longest wait (by 10 events) in the Open era -- in more than a decade.

No. 2: Novak Djokovic is a gamer.

Sure, he's been a champion the past few years, but there was a time in his career when he bailed out of matches with what seemed like minor issues. After taking a bathroom break, he settled down and fought hard in that semifinal against Nadal. He looked exhausted at the end, but handled himself in the post-match press conference with a lot of class.

No. 1: Rafael Nadal owns Roland Garros.

Wait -- we already knew that, but it bears repeating. The Spanish lefty is now 59-1 on the red clay here and now has eight championships. That means Nadal is the first man in tennis to win a single Grand Slam eight times.

Amazing. Incredible. That's Rafa on an average day.