Though injury kept him out of action until May this year, it would appear that there was a hidden blessing in this forced break: With so much of the rest of the tour breaking down due to injury, the Russian is left to romp in the latter months of the year.
What’s more, Davydenko’s game is ideally built for facing a player like Rafael Nadal, especially on a quick indoor surface: Nadal, with his elaborate forehand backswing and a serve that wins few free points, can be put on the defensive more easily by Davydenko, whose strokes are relatively compact and who hits the ball as cleanly as anyone in our post-Agassi landscape.
Davydenko has now beaten Nadal in three of their four off-clay meetings (and very nearly topped the Spaniard in the 2007 Rome semis when Nadal was at the peak of his clay court dominance). He also put the clamps on the eighth qualifying slot for the London Masters Cup, and it’s hard to see Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Simon or anyone else overtaking him on these surfaces.
All of which comes as bad news for fans who like players with big personalities or varied games, but great for lovers of pure ball-striking.
Perhaps it was a case of cosmic justice that the Spaniard, whose injuries are more freely discussed than any other player’s on the ATP Tour, would have both Ivan Ljubicic and Feliciano Lopez give up against him in the lead up to the Shanghai final. Both of these players have the kinds of games that could blast Nadal off a fast court, but their departures left him relatively fresh for his final encounter with Davydenko.
And the long march back to the top of the game continues for the world No. 2, who hasn’t won a title since late-April. He continues to lay the seeds for eventual triumph, but don’t look for it before the end of this year.
With its third-set tiebreak and equal number of breaks for both players, the semi between Davydenko and the Serb would have made a crowd-pleasing final. Afterwards, Djokovic was positive, saying that he had played a great match against the undersized Russian, but there must be a real sense of disappointment.
Djokovic had a real chance to win his second title in as many weeks, thus building his momentum at time when most of his major rivals are hurt or struggling. And, in a match that was virtually even in terms of shots, the Djoker was routed in the match’s eight most critical points.
Winning at the game’s highest stages means playing the best on the most important junctures of a match, and this was not a step in the right direction.
The match the Frenchman played against Djoker was a fine one, but the loss there drastically reduces his chances of return to the Master’s Cup. Better luck next year, Gilles.
The ATP Tour
Nadal and the recently injured Andy Roddick are slamming the tour schedule. In truth, with Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro out, as well as Roddick, Ljubicic, Lopez and Gael Monfils (miss anyone?) falling along the wayside, such statements should hardly be necessary.
The value of tennis’ finest product, its players, is being mismanaged, and it may take a more organized approach from them to address the problem.