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Lleyton Hewitt 500 wins cake© Bongarts/Getty ImagesLleyton Hewitt celebrated his 500th match win in Munich.

Can anyone stop Rafael Nadal? That is the question on every tennis fan’s lips at Roland Garros, where the mighty Spaniard chases an unprecedented fifth straight Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Many challengers have stepped up to face Nadal, none more so than Roger Federer who was defeated by Nadal in the 2006-08 finals, but none have unlocked the key to dethroning the King of Clay at Roland Garros.

However, World No. 2 Roger Federer and No. 4 Novak Djokovic will have cause for optimism, having both made a significant impression on Nadal at the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open. Djokovic held three match points as he pushed Nadal all the way in a four-hour, three-minute semi-final clash, before Federer handed the Spaniard his first defeat in 34 matches on clay with a 6-4, 6-4 victory in the final. Match Report

Prior to his exertions at the newly-built Caja Magica, the 22-year-old Nadal had been untouchable on clay. He won back-to-back titles at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Monte-Carlo (d. Djokovic) and Barcelona (d. Ferrer) for the fifth successive year and regained the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Rome title (d. Djokovic) that he had previously won from 2005-7. Federer and Djokovic may have ruffled the feathers of Nadal, but can they topple the Spaniard over the course of five sets? Time will tell.

Since winning his fifth straight US Open title at Flushing Meadows last September, Roger Federer has been on the verge of tying Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 14 Grand Slam titles. The Swiss was denied in an epic five-set final by Nadal in the Australian Open final and his emotions were plain for all to see as he accepted the runner-up trophy in a hard-court Grand Slam final for the first time. Match Report

Buoyed by ending his title drought in Madrid, Federer will look to Roland Garros and then Wimbledon for the opportunity to reach the milestone that Nadal has done his best to thwart. Fans will wait with baited breath to see if there will be a repeat of arguably the best-ever Wimbledon final in 2008, which ended in near-darkness with Nadal snatching a sixth Wimbledon title from Federer’s grasp at 9-7 in the fifth set.

“I would be prouder if I was in the middle of them,” was Andy Murray’s response to closing in on Nadal and Federer as he became the first British player to reach No. 3 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings. While the ever-ambitious Murray was proud of his achievement, he is also more focussed than ever to break up the strong-hold that the Top 2 have exerted over the Rankings in recent years. “They have had the top two spots for the last 5-6 years maybe; it is an incredible run that both of them have been on. I would love to try to break that up,” affirmed Murray.

Since reaching his first Grand Slam final at the US Open in 2008, Murray has gone from strength to strength – already clinching three ATP World Tour titles in 2009. As Wimbledon and the inevitable Murraymania draws ever closer, the Scot will look to become the first British male to win the singles title since Fred Perry last did so in 1936. The Dunblane native is sure to have colourfully-attired British fans packed on Henman Hill gripped to every ball he strikes throughout The Championships.

Rafael Nadal continues to close in on records set by the greats of the game. Andre Agassi would have retired after a 20-year career confident that his record of 17 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies would remain untouched for many-a-year to come. Not so. Nadal is fast approaching Agassi’s benchmark and, after clinching three more of the coveted shields so far in 2009 - including his 15th at Rome while still a 22 year old, he is just two titles away from tying the American’s record.

Former World No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt reached a milestone that only two other active players (Roger Federer, Carlos Moya) have achieved when he won his 500th singles match in the first round of the BMW Open by FWU AG in Munich. The Australian saved two match points as he battled past Philipp Petzschner 6-2 6-7(2) 7-6(8) in a typically gritty display before going on to reach the quarter-finals (l. to Berdych).

Both Roger Federer and Andy Roddick have enjoyed significant success off the court in early 2009. Federer and Mirka Vavrinec announced that they were to become parents in the summer, and shortly after tied the knot on the eve of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. Roddick later followed suit, marrying model Brooklyn Decker in a ceremony in Austin, Texas, in April.


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