Paris brings out the best in Nadal

PARIS -- Early in the clay-court season, Rafael Nadal was not playing like tennis royalty.

The King of Clay was bounced from the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo by David Ferrer, then Nicolas Almagro, of all people, in Barcelona. A walkover title in Madrid -- when Kei Nishikori bailed -- and a loss to Novak Djokovic in the Rome final did little to restore our faith.

And then Rafa arrived in Paris and the game changed.

He dropped the first set of the final to Djokovic -- and then rolled to his not-to-be-believed (and never achieved) ninth French Open title.

Who's hot on the men's side -- and who's not? An accounting:


No. 1 Rafael Nadal: All the 28-year-old Spaniard did was win his ninth French Open title in 10 years. That's two more titles than any other player ever won at any Grand Slam. Rafa, now 66-1 at Roland Garros, is scheduled to play in Halle, Germany, but don't be surprised if he pulls out and surfaces at Wimbledon.


No. 2 Novak Djokovic: Going in, this looked like the year that Nadal would finally lose a French Open final. Give Djokovic credit for helping to create that impression. He just ran out of steam, which often happens when playing Nadal. Djokovic is not scheduled to play until Wimbledon.


No. 3 Stan Wawrinka: The 29-year-old Swiss No. 1 started the season like a man on fire. He won his first Grand Slam in Melbourne and then his first ATP Masters 1000 event in Monte Carlo. And then ... a loss to young Austrian Dominic Thiem in his first match in Madrid, and then a defeat by ageless Tommy Haas in his second match in Rome. Not the way you want to hit the grass at Queen's.


No. 4 Roger Federer: The clay season ended poorly, with an agonizing five-set loss to Ernests Gulbis. Federer looked all of his 32 years old and couldn't land the forehand in the big moments. The 17-time Grand Slam champion failed to reach the quarters in three of his past four majors. In his postmatch press conference he was already looking forward to defending his title in Halle.


No. 5 Andy Murray: For the first time this year, Muray looks like a man who isn't worried about wrenching his back. He made the semifinals in Paris, matching his career best. That sets him up nicely for Queen's -- and Wimbledon, where he is the defending champion, having exorcised the ghost of Fred Perry in a brilliant run a year ago.


No. 6 Tomas Berdych: The agile Czech Republic player whistled his way through the first four rounds at Roland Garros -- as he often does at the majors -- then ran into a red-hot Gulbis in the quarters. It was not close and Berdych was off to Queen's to dial in his grass game.


No. 7 David Ferrer: Likewise, the 32-year-old Spaniard clawed his way into the quarters but was taken out by Nadal. Ferrer took the first set, but faded badly in the last three, winning a total of only five games.


No. 11 John Isner: The big fellow won three matches at Roland Garros, a personal best, on the surface that does his power game the least good. Isner was bidding to be the first American man to reach the quarterfinals at Roland Garros since Andre Agassi in 2003. There was no shame in losing three sets to Tomas Berdych by identical 6-4 counts in all three sets.