Is there a chink in the armor of Roger Federer? Nine losses in 2007 might indicate that to be the case. After all Federer only lost nine matches the previous two years combined. Still, Federer has won three of the four Grand Slams each of the past two years and eight of the last 11. With Rafael Nadal’s three consecutive French Open titles, the world’s No. 1 and 2 have completely dominated the Majors since Marat Safin won the Australian Open in 2005. Things could be a little different in 2008. It’s not that Federer has lost anything, it’s just that some other players are getting better. Nadal now has proven that he can hang with Federer on surfaces other than clay and is closing the gap. To wit: his epic five-set loss to Federer in last year’s Wimbledon Final. Nadal should prevail again this year on the red clay at Roland Garros, a surface on which he is simply the best, and Federer will remain king of the lawns at the All England Club. An outside shot at Wimbledon would be France’s Richard Gasquet, No. 8 in the world and an absolutely brilliant shot-maker. If Gasquet ever realizes how good he is, the sky is the limit. Federer should still be the favorite at the U.S. Open, but standing in his path is Novak Djokovic. The Surging Serb, ranked No. 3, defeated Federer at the Rogers Cup in Montreal last summer and gave the Swiss Maestro all he could handle at Flushing Meadow in September. It was a learning experience for the Serb, his first Grand Slam final, a match in which he squandered seven set points in the first two sets and three break points in the third. That loss should steel him for future clashes. That brings us to the Australian Open, the first major of the year and the most likely of the slams to provide a surprise winner. My dark horse is Argentina’s David Nalbandian, with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all in the mix. If the newly installed Plexicushion surface at Melbourne Park proves to be slower, softer and give a higher bounce than the old Rebound Ace, Nadal has a good chance. When the 2007 season concluded at the Masters Cup in Shanghai in November, Nalbandian, supremely gifted but often accused of lacking commitment, was the hottest player on the circuit. “He’s the best returner in the world,” said Nadal after getting shellacked 6-4, 6-0 in the final of the Paris Masters last fall. Nalbandian also took out Federer 6-4, 7-6 in the third round of that tournament. Two weeks earlier Nalbandian beat Nadal, Djokovic and Federer in succession to win the Madrid Masters title. The fall blitzkrieg propelled Nalbandian to No. 9 in the world, one slot shy of qualifying for Shanghai. The eight finalists had to be relieved. This could be the year Nalbandian comes of age. If he amps up the fire in the belly, stays “en fuego” and goes for the jugular, look out. Competition is good. It makes everybody better.