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Nikolay Davydenko Sets Up Delicious Match with Rafael Nadal

DOHA, QATAR - JANUARY 09:  Nikolay Davydenko of Russia in action against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the Final match of the ATP Qatar ExxonMobil Open at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex on January 9, 2010 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Marcus ChinCorrespondent IMay 7, 2012

With his win over the towering Ivo Karlovic, Nikolay Davydenko set up a mouth-watering matchup with Rafael Nadal, tennis' clay No. 1, if there were ever such a thing.

It is a contest that will pose more controversy than simply any other former top five, top 10, Igor Andreev or Fernando Verdasco-type calibre player might. Davydenko has a crucial statistic on his side, which could turn the tables at tense moments. It's a 6-4 lead in their head to head.

It's a minor issue, some might say, and analysts will be quick to point out that his four-match winning streak against Nadal has come entirely on hard courts, and while Nadal has only won one set against Davydenko those four times, it was a first set bagel at Doha in 2010.

Crucially for the Spaniard, his last victory did come on clay, and it sounds convincing—a 6-3, 6-2, likely drubbing, at Barcelona in 2009.

Of course, there's more back story to this delicious second-round encounter. It's at Madrid, on a clay court that's never really played like real clay because of the altitude, and there's the fact that it's blue, something about which Nadal has been rather outspokenly disgruntled about in recent weeks.

Add in the fact that it's his first match of the tournament (despite having won his last two, there are bound to be jerky edges to smooth out), and Nadal might find himself in a tricky situation in a few days' time.

As the head-to-head should suggest, it isn't merely a case of an underdog clasping an opportunity by the neck and making a molehill of hope into a mountain of it; Davydenko is a legitimate challenge for Nadal, who has bested him in big matches. Few have a positive record against the Spaniard, and few more have won four straight matches against him (only Novak Djokovic has managed likewise).

Something about Davydenko's rushy groundstrokes, his tenacity, recent match experience in Madrid and the bounce of the new blue clay, might prove troublesome for Nadal. But Nadal does have a mountain of clay court confidence, recent tournament wins and recent experience in quashing a player jinx (Djokovic at Monte Carlo).

It's still hard to see him not get through this, even if he'll be covered in blue when it's all done and dusted.

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