When was the world's No. 1, Rafael Nadal, last broken in five consecutive service games? It's been a few years I dare say. From the start, it looked as if we were to be gifted with a Fedal final to begin 2011 with.
Nadal came up an early break and Federer had taken care of business earlier with a straights set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It was time for revenge for Nadal, who had lost the last three matches against Davydenko and trailed him 4-5 in their h2h. But then Nadal faltered. And withered away.
Davydenko took advantage and with a near flawless game, he brought himself up 6-3, 4-0. Nadal was serving, knowing he would risk a bagel if he didn't hold.
At 3-0 in the second, Nadal had called the trainer saying that he felt unusually tired after a mere three games in the match. His body language said it all. No fist-pumping, no chasing down every ball. Instead he was bending over in between points. Resting his hands on his thighs. But Nadal was determined to see the match through, to fit to the end. Perhaps to atone for a withdrawal against the same opponent after losing the first set in 2008. Or perhaps just because he's a fighter.
Anyhow, there wasn't much fight during the stretch in which Davydenko won 10 out of 11 games. The errors kept piling in, Nadal's timing was off, a shadow of himself and Davydenko was as hot as we've seen him since this time last. Not a good combination.
Serving at 0-4, Nadal seemed determined not to be bageled for the second day in a row. After a couple of games, where it almost seemed as if he gave the points away to get over with the match, Nadal returned to his warrior mentality, blasting forehands and giving Davydenko a run for it. Davydenko was up break point, but Nadal fought back. Another break-point and Davydenko seemed on course to steamroll Nadal completely.
But it ain't over till it's over. No one seemed more aware of that than Davydenko, who tried to challenge a call after the ball was played at 4-0. And challenged again at 5-0, determined to close it out, but the netcord had carried Nadal's ball in.
At 5-0, Davydenko serves for the match and Nadal starts out with a punishing angled cross-court backhand on the serve. 0-15. An unreturnable forehand brings him to 0-30, but Davydenko gets back to 30-all, only to hand Nadal a break-point with a double fault.
In these two games, the match is both even, exciting and well-played for the first time since early in the first. Davydenko gets back with some fast play, making Nadal run around the court. Nadal is at this point much closer to the Nadal we know and have come to love and is as determined as ever not to go down without a fight.
Another double from Davydenko hands Nadal a breakpoint and he succeds as Davydenko nets a forehand. The near flawless Davydenko game is less flawless now. Is it nerves?
Nadal has certainly found a second air and is now dominating the game with his forehand. Still tired and weak, but with much more explosion in his shots now. He managed to hold to 5-2 and the crowd roars in approval as if he'd won the match.
2-5, Davydenko serving. Rafa quickly earns himself three break-points and Davydenko looks troubled. Is this the turning point? Can an ill Rafa recover from being down 0-5 and turn the match around? A break here will surely re-open the match in a way not imaginable just 10 minutes prior.
But some well-timed serving, a serv-forehand combination and and ace safes the first two and Davydenko scraps out the last one as well.
Was this all?
Nope, Nadal comes up another break-point, four in total in this game. But again, Davydenko safes it and eventually closes out the match and now holds a rare record in men's tennis. Having beaten Nadal four consecutive times. Again, when this that last happen?
The dream final was not to be, and probably wouldn't have been a dream final given Nadal's health condition.
Instead we have Davydenko-Federer. Federer leads the h2h 14-2, but lost two of the last three, one of them being the Doha semis last year.
He's looking for revenge and a tournament victory to begin his 2011 campaign.
Davydenko on the other hand is looking to reestablish himself in the top after an injury-filled 2010 that saw him plummet to his current 22nd after being the hot man on tour at the end of 2009 and early 2010.
Furthermore, he has the possibility to create history and become the first man ever to beat the Fedal duo back-to-back in three different tournaments.
He did it late 2009, and in Doha last year.
Can he do it again?
If he plays like he did for most of the match, he sure got his chances, but his track record against Roger, and Roger's level here in Doha, suggest he needs to keep that level throughout the match.
It's not the dream final, but we are gifted with some high quality tennis early on in 2011. And we do have Davydenko back playing finals. Cheers to that!