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Rafael Nadal is back, and suddenly it's feeling like 2008 all over again

rafael-nadal-qa-ap.jpg caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim after Rafael Nadal defeated Robin Soderling in the French Open men's singles final, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal improved to 38-1 all-time at the French Open with Sunday's victory. Have you ever seen a more dominant clay-court player?

Never. Not among the men, anyway. I don't even think he was at his best these last two weeks and he wasn't even tested. This win gives last year's results -- Soderling's fourth-round victory over Nadal in particular -- that much more perspective. Either it was that much bigger an upset or that much bigger a fluke, because this guy didn't put up much resistance today.

How much of Nadal's dominance is mental? It seemed Soderling was hitting great shots early but Nadal just gets to everything. It has to be deflating.

Exactly. Nadal comes off as a laid-back guy. He doesn't say anything provocative on purpose. But mentally he's a beast. This was a revenge match for him, whether he wanted to admit it or not. It must be so demoralizing to play against a guy who's so much better defensively and just chases down everything. You could see it in the match today but you see it every time he plays. He beats you down mentally as much as anything he does physically.

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Can you put Nadal's perfect clay-court campaign -- he's 22-0 on the surface in 2010 -- in perspective?

He's come close in the past as well. This year, you could make the case that some guys were injured and he didnt have to play Roger Federer more than once. But at the same time, you look at his body of work -- not just this year but since 2005 -- and it's pretty overwhelming.

What's next for Soderling in 2010? Do you think he's a worthy candidate to challenge the Nadal-Federer hegemony?

Suddenly, Soderling really emerges as the most likely guy when you look at the status of the other three or four candidates. He's a big guy, he can hit with them, he can stand in there. Why isn't he the next alternative? But when it comes down to it, he's won zero Grand Slam titles, so we'll have to wait and see.

What do you expect at Wimbledon on the men's side based on the French Open results?

It feels a lot like 2008. I personally think you still have to give Federer respect. But between Roger's quarterfinal loss and Nadal looking like the old Nadal, the favorite is anyone's guess. We need to remember Nadal is riding a seven-match winning streak at Wimbledon after winning in '08 and sitting out last year with the injury. He's won 13 of his last 14 matches there. I could call this one either way. It's really the fun stuff again. You always hold your breath with injuries with him, but he's sure looked like the old Rafa -- not just these last two weeks but the last two months.