Top Four Male Seeds Lead Way at French Open

Some 254 men's and women's main-draw singles matches will be contested over the 15 days here at Roland Garros, along with 189 men's, women's and mixed doubles matches, and another 126 junior boys and girls singles matches.

But only one -- No. 1 seed Roger Federer versus No. 2 seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal -- truly matters. All the other matches, Wednesday's two men's quarterfinals included, are essentially irrelevant.

As soon as Nadal dispatched Federer in the Rome final three weeks ago (the Swiss champion held two match points), the drumbeat began. After Nadal prevailed Wednesday over Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4 in an injury-shortened match, the noise was deafening.

What about Federer in the French Open final?

"We'll take one match at a time," said the 20-year-old Spaniard. "I don't want to speculate. I'm thinking about Friday rather than Sunday. We'll talk about that next time."

In Wednesday's other men's quarterfinal, Ivan Ljubicic reached his first career Grand Slam semifinal, handling French favorite Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

And so, for the first time since 1985, the top four seeds have arrived safely in the semifinals -- just like they drew it up in the ATP playbook. On Friday, Federer will play No. 3 seed David Nalbandian in one semifinal and Nadal will meet the fourth-seeded Ljubicic.

Notoriously Seed-Free

Men's tennis, like those green California grapes, has been notoriously seed-free in recent years. Depth typically leads to upsets, but here at Roland Garros they have been rare as the rounds have grown more meaningful.

In 1985, No. 1 John McEnroe, No. 2 Ivan Lendl, No. 3 Jimmy Connors and No. 4 Mats Wilander all reached the semifinals. Wilander won in four sets over Lendl in the final. The last time No. 1 met No. 2 in the final was the year before, when Lendl prevailed over McEnroe in five sets.

"It's been a long time -- since my brother," U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe said Tuesday. "It is very unusual. It's been pretty clear that two guys have been distancing themselves from the pack, but the next two guys have been winning matches, and doing it on varying surfaces.

"I don't expect them to stay at No. 3 and No. 4 for as long as Federer and Nadal are No. 1 and No. 2. I think it's more of a fluke than anything."

Meanwhile, on the women's side, things aren't as static and staid as they usually are. No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 3 Nadia Petrova and No. 4 Maria Sharapova are all gone, supplanted by No. 16 seed Nicole Vaidisova, No. 8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 5 seed Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Nadal's run at Roland Garros has been scrutinized to a frightening degree. Any misstep, however slight, is seen as a potential catastrophe.

There was the banana incident earlier in the week but, fortunately, the Heimlich Maneuver was not necessary. There were grave concerns when Nadal dropped a set to Paul-Henri Mathieu, whispers that something was horribly wrong when he played a taut, four-set match with Lleyton Hewitt.

Who's Really No. 1?

Relax, tennis fans, it's going to happen.

Nadal won his 58th consecutive match on clay to extend his Open-era record and has won each of his 12 career matches at Roland Garros. Wednesday's partial walkover (a back injury prevented Djokovic from continuing three points into the third set) will only help Nadal's constitution. Nadal was on the court for only 1 hour, 54 minutes before Djokovic, walking more gingerly as the match wore on, retired. Nadal's previous two matches averaged 4 hours, 5 minutes each.

"No, I don't feel tired -- no, no," said Nadal, who nonetheless looked a little sluggish at times. "Today was good. I lost little bit my concentration in the second with his problems."

Nadal was asked who would win the Federer-Nalbandian match.

"Who is the No. 1?" he asked. "He is the favorite. Federer is having very good results. He's used to being in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament. But it's going to be a tough match. I wouldn't like to bet on that one."

Nadal has beaten Federer in five of the six matches they've played but Nadal is already trying to spin this one. Based on that record -- he is three-for-three on clay -- Nadal was asked if he considered himself No. 1.

"It's a strange question," Nadal said. "He's No. 1. I'm No. 2. I feel I am No. 2, which is what I am.

"How many points does he have? Seven thousand. Nobody else in the history of tennis has ever had that. Nobody has had such a high ranking, No. 1.

"So, yeah, he's No. 1."

On Sunday, we'll see. T-minus four days and counting.