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Can Roger-Rafa Stronghold Be Broken?

Nadal, Federer© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal and Roger Federer have won 21 of the past 23 Grand Slams. previews five storylines to watch during the 2011 season. In the second in the series we consider whether the Nadal-Federer Grand Slam dominance will be broken next year. 

In recent years Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have written themselves into the history books as two of the greatest players ever to lift a tennis racquet, and that is due in no small part to their extraordinary success in the Grand Slam championships.

Will there be a change in the tide in the new season?

Between them, Nadal and Federer have accounted for 21 of the past 23 major titles, dating back to Nadal's first major triumph at 2005 Roland Garros, with only Novak Djokovic (2008 Australian Open) and Juan Martin del Potro (2009 US Open) able to earn their maiden pieces of Grand Slam silverware in that period.

Indeed, the 24-year-old Nadal is bidding for a fourth straight Grand Slam championship at the upcoming Australian Open after sweeping Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in the second half of the 2010 season. Meanwhile, defending Australian Open champion Federer is looking to add to his record-breaking tally of 16 Grand Slam singles titles by winning his fifth crown in Melbourne.

MurrayA number of players will be hoping that two-man dominance is waning, though. Serbian Djokovic will be one such player hoping to put himself in the frame for a second Grand Slam title. The Belgrade native was responsible for denying Federer a place in his seventh straight US Open final after saving two match points to defeat the Swiss in the semi-finals this year and, by reaching his second final at Flushing Meadows, reminded everyone that he is not far from adding to his 2008 Australian Open title.

Andy Murray will look to end 75 years of hurt for Great Britain by breaking through to win his first Grand Slam title. The Scot has an encouraging 8-6 record against Federer, although he was beaten by the Swiss in his 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open finals. Despite trailing Nadal 4-9 in their FedEx ATP Head 2 Head, Murray has proven he can beat the Spaniard on the big occasions, with wins in the 2008 US Open semi-finals and this year’s Australian Open quarter-finals.

Murray signalled that he is on the verge of major success, possibly at next month’s Australian Open, when he played arguably his best match of the year in a three-set defeat to Nadal at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. “I want to try and build on that for next year,” said Murray after the match. “It was a great match to finish the year. But I need to improve because I'm competing with the two best players of all time. So if I want to win the Grand Slams, I need to get better.”

Sweden’s Robin Soderling has broken through as a major contender in the past two years, having finished runner-up at Roland Garros twice, including dethroning four-time defending champion Nadal en route to the 2009 final and upsetting Federer in the 2010 quarter-finals. Meanwhile, it’s fair to suggest that if del Potro had not been struck down by a serious wrist injury for much of the past season, Nadal and Federer may not have enjoyed the same domination in 2010. Fit and ready after two months of intensive training, the 2009 US Open winner will be back in the frame to challenge for major titles again next year.

The Australian Open is known for throwing up surprise finalists and even champions. Remember Thomas Johansson in 2002? Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, himself considered an unexpected runner-up in Melbourne in 2008, struggled with a knee injury this season, but could be a wild card pick for a major title next season with his bruising game.

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