ATP Tennis 360

November 29, 2009 1:51 PM

Davydenko, Master of Masters

"He played like a Playstation" declared Juan Martin Del Potro to summarize his 63 64 defeat to Nikolay Davydenko, who in 84 minutes became the first Russian "Master of Masters": his only finalist compatriot, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, lost to Sampras in 1997.


Davydenko effectively played a perfect tournament, avenging the final lost to Djokovic last year, and conquered the most important of his 19 career titles. The now sixth best player in the world rankings is the second, after Nalbandian, to win the once called World Tour Finals without Grand Slam titles. Yet, in this edition he treated himself to beat all the 2009 Grand Slam titlists: before Rafa Nadal, then Roger Federer in the semi (the only top-10 he hadn't beaten yet, after 12 defeat) and finally the Us Open champion, Juan Martin Del Potro.

Kolya played such a perfect match to allow himself cancel the "zero" at the voice "unforced errors" only at 4-1, with one break up, with a netted forehand. The priviled journeyman, head of a tennis made of substance with no concession to glamour and aesthetics, in the first set held three times to love, once to 15 and, at 4-2, handed Palito his first break point thanks to his first double fault, but saved it with a winning forehand. In the whole set he won 34 points to 21, losing 5 on his serve (to 12).

In the second he wasted two mini match point (Delpo saved two break points at 2-2 with as many winning serves) and faced two on his own, erased with his sixth ace and an extremely uncommon serve&volley. Who could imagine a dramatic comeback from 63 54 30-15 (at that score, in the Us Open final, Delpo started his "second" match) was disappointed. In August Roger was distracted and gifted some chance, Kolya not.

Possibly he, usually a stakhanovist, profitted from the injuries that forced him out for the first four months, so uncommonly he arrived in London fresher and with more energies; probably the decision to split so evidently the semifinals, and not organising them back-to-back, made the recovery times different for him and the Argentine. But this can't obscure the quality of Kolya, focused and centered all along the match, closed with a streak of 12 points to 2, who became the first Russian capable of winning in London (even Metreveli, in the heavily boycotted Wimbledon edition in 1973 lost the title-match to Kodes). The bookmakers, who had quoted him at 12 before the event, will have to pay the courageous who believed in him, who could prepare the next season with 1.5 million dollars more than before (but not enough, he said, to buy the apartment in London he dreamt) and accredit himself as the main heir of Andre Agassi.

Andre won only 2 Slams before being 29-years old, and six after. Kolya, who's 28 and a half y.o, none. Probably won't never triumphing in a major, because for his tennis seven wins in two weeks in as many "best of five" matches could be too much. Kolya is a great counterpuncher, more than Andre, but needs to be perfectly fit, because he suffers when he has to hit a "light ball", with a low bounce. Agassi was more open-stanced, with a quick whip, while Kolya accompanies the movement with a more pronounced body rotation. Davydenko desperately needs anticipation, also if he hits, mainly the forehands, the ball when it's lower and load it with an heavy lift with his feet parallel to the net. The Russian risks less than the American with the opening game hits (serve and return) but difficultly, during the rally, he found himself in defense behind the baseline.

He's not a natural born volleyeur, but he can play drops and morbid volley with a cut under the ball; against Federer he displayed a pair of astonishing point running forward, included an unbelievable counter-cross with an unusual one-handed backhand.

Probably the only aspect he can improve, and it's not a paradox, is the "fitness". In the last 2 years, he said, he trained himself 2 hours a day, and before the finals he went to Moscow without touching a racket for six days, arriving in London only on Wednesday. An hard-worker with the mood of a Pat Rafter, this is the secret of the journeyman who contains multitudes.

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