Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Cordoba Controversy

Now that Argentina have reached the Davis Cup final, the question is - where will it be held?
While David is taking a few well-earned days off, skiing with friends in southern Argentina the debate is in full sway. The Argentine Federation and its president Morea favour Buenos Aires (i.e. the Parque Roca stadium again) whereas team captain Mancini and the players prefer Cordoba (i.e. the Orfeo Superdomo, pictured above). Which would also be David's choice - for obvious reasons. To make matters even more complicated, three other Argentine cities have by now raised their claim (Mar De Plata, San Juan and Salta).
The choice between Parque Roca and Orfeo Superdomo is also the choice between playing the final outdoors or indoors. Many, including myself, believe that an indoor venue (and carpet as surface) would boost Argentina's chances. But the problem with the Orfeo Superdomo is that it doesn't meet the requirements the ITF has set for finals, as it has a seating capacity of around 9.000, 3.000 short of the ITF minimum. However, local Cordoba newspaper "La Voz" reports that ways to increase the number of seats are currently being analyzed.
In my opinion, this decision should be made not by Senor Morea but by Alberto Mancini and the players. And playing the final in Cordoba would definitely be a dream come true for David.

Meanwhile, the first round of the Davis Cup World Group 2009 was pulled in Madrid today. Argentina will play their first tie at home against The Netherlands (March 6-8, 2009). Well, it could definitely be worse. In a possible quarter final, they would face either France or the Czech Republic. - But that's still a long way away...

La Voz article (in Spanish)
Davis Cup 2009 article and full draw

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Argentina make the final

Juan Martin Del Potro has defeated Igor Andreev 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 to take Argentina to the Davis Cup final where they will meet Spain.
The final will take place November 21 - 23 and will be played in Argentina.

Good to see David happy again...

Too much to ask... David loses to Davydenko

A visibly tired David was defeated today by Russia's Nikolay Davydenko 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-0, levelling the tie at 2-2. It is now up to Juan Martin Del Potro to secure a spot for Argentina in the Davis Cup final.

I had expected Dmitry Tursunov to be David's opponent in this match, but Russian captain Tarpishev stuck with Davydenko. A wise choice, it now seems. Whereas today's match makes it really difficult not to regard Mancini's decision to let David play doubles as a big mistake.

A summary...
David started very well, playing even better than he had against Andreev. He served well, dominated most of the rallies and chose the right moments to finish off points at the net. And he didn't allow Davydenko to find his rhythm from the baseline. David broke the Russian's serve to go up 3-1 and had the chance to go up a double break at 4-1, but missed it. But the one break he had proved to be enough in the end. David served out the set without any difficulties and took it 6-3. At that point of the match, his first serve percentage was 71% and he had committed only 7 unforced errors.
The second set began with another break for David. The momentum still seemed to be on his side. - But not for long, because then followed the first in a series of epic serve games from David with equally epic amounts of break points for Davydenko (who ended up having 26 of them in the match, though he converted only 7, mostly because David served well in those moments, at least until the final set). The Russian immediately broke back, made it 1-1 and then held his own serve for 2-1. During that phase, the unforced errors seriously started to creep into David's game. Which were either caused by not getting to ball in time or trying to finish the points too quickly. - Both signs that David was beginning to grow tired. The Russian broke again to lead 3-1, immediately gave the break back for 3-2, but then broke yet again to make it 4-2. In the following game, David had a break point but couldn't convert it, so Davydenko went up 5-2. David held to make it 5-3. But after that Davydenko served out the set, 6-3. In this second set, David made 19 unforced errors, most of them with the forehand that was now seriously starting to let him down.
In the third set, it stayed on serve until 2-2. Then David got broken to love, due to a series of unforced errors. That was the moment he really started to look tired and exhausted. Davydenko carried this break through the set until he could serve for it at 5-4. But then he choked. Though I'd give some credit for that choke to David, because he really fought during that game, mobilizing whatever strength he still had. His reward was the break, 5-5. And then followed one of the most chaotic and unbelievable service games I've ever seen from David. Including a total of 6 break points for Davydenko and 3 lucky netcords for David - and finally the 6-5 lead for him. So Davydenko now had to serve stay in the set. David took the first point with a well-timed attack and then gestured at the crowd to make even more noise than they were already making. Which didn't go down so well with Davydenko, who complained about David to umpire Bernardes. But though the crowd were really trying their best, David couldn't find a way to break Davydenko's serve at that moment. The Russian held to make it 6-6.
- And then the stream I was watching the match on suddenly switched to football. Therefore, I only saw on the scoreboard that Davydenko took the tiebreak 7-2.
Most of the fourth set I still spent frantically trying to find a working stream. In hindsight, it's perhaps not too bad that I didn't get to see too much of it... When I finally found a stream, David was already serving to stay in the match. And avoid the bagel. I must say I was shocked by how depleted he looked. Dead on his feet, basically...

So David's immaculate winning streak in Davis Cup home ties is history.
Let's just hope that Delpo can take Argentina to the final.

Post-match interview with David.

Match Stats...
1st Serves: 62%
Aces: 3
Double Faults: 6
Break Point Conversion: 4/12
Winners (including serve): 58
Unforced Errors: 52


Saturday, September 20, 2008

It's not over yet - David & Willy lose the doubles

In a dramatic five-set match that lasted 3:37 hours, the Russian doubles team Dmitry Tursunov and Igor Kunitsyn today defeated David and Guillermo "Willy" Canas 6-2, 6-1, 6-7(9), 4-6, 8-6.
The tie now stands at 2-1 Argentina before the last two singles matches tomorrow.

Although Argentine captain Alberto Mancini initially called an appearance by David in doubles unlikely, already yesterday evening rumours emerged that David and not Agustin Calleri would play today's doubles match alongside Willy Canas. I assume that Mancini asked David if he felt fit enough and wanted to play. And they must've surely thought that this change in the line-up would increase their chances of closing the tie already on Saturday.
But now, after the long and very emotional match today the question is whether it really was such a good idea to let David play doubles. After all, he now has a live rubber singles match ahead of him tomorrow.

A brief summary...
The first two sets were extremely one-sided and it took the Russian team less than an hour to win them. David and Willy, who've played only one doubles match together since the Davis Cup quarter final in April, were confused by the Russians' tactics of Kunitsyn staying back at all times and Tursunov alone covering the net. Both David and Willy had considerable difficulties holding serve and in the second set neither of them managed to do so even once (the only game they won was a break against Kunitsyn).
In the third set however, David and Willy started to play better and managed to establish a 4-1 lead. But the Russians broke back to make it 4-3. At 5-4, David and Willy had a set point on Kunitsyn's serve but at that moment, an unlucky netcord robbed them of their chance. Eventually, the set went to a tiebreak. The Russians quickly went up 6-3 and had 3 match points, the first two of which on Kunitsyn's serve. But a forehand winner from Willy, a backhand on the line from David and then finally a poor return from Tursunov kept the Argentine team in play. After that, David & Willy squandered 3 set points until finally a volley down the middle from David won Argentina the third set.
In the fourth set, David and Willy played their best tennis of the match and soon led by a double break. At 5-2, David served for the set and got broken. But he made up for it with some good play in the next game, where they managed to break Tursunov and take the fourth.
Early in the fifth set a break of the Kunitsyn serve gave David & Willy a 3-1 lead but it was short-lived as the Russians broke straight back against Willy. At 3-3, David played a horrible service game, culminating in two double faults in a row that gave the Russians first break point and then the break and the 4-3 lead. But this time, David and Willy broke straight back to level the score at 4-4. They stayed on serve until 6-6. And then it was Willy who got broken. I couldn't see how exactly it happened because the stream I was using chose that particular moment to break down on me. When it was working again, Tursunov was already serving for the match and it took merely a minute or two until he sealed the victory with a service winner.

Apropos Dmitry Tursunov - I wouldn't be surprised if Russia's captain Tarpishev lets him play tomorrow, and not Davydenko. Tursunov really appeared to be in fine form today...
But the real question is: will David be, tomorrow?

Post-match audio interview with David and Willy.

More pics...

Friday, September 19, 2008

David beats Andreev 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-4!

Some players may struggle with the pressure and expectations, playing Davis Cup. But not David...
“I played great, and I feel great,” he said after the match, “it was an amazing crowd today and amazing feeling on court too.”
- And it was also an amazing feeling to watch him play with the passion and confidence he so often lacked this season.

It's not like there was a completely new David out there on court (or the one from Madrid & Paris). He still seemed a bit slow getting to the ball at times, which resulted in a series of unforced errors, especially with the backhand. But the good thing was how he managed to cut down those errors as the match went on (first set: 14, second set: 5, third set: 3). I also liked how he came to the net mostly at the right moments, i.e. behind the right shots. And the relative absence of silly drop-shots and drama moments. Instead, he had the confidence to really go for his groundstrokes, down the line as well as cross court with some beautiful angles. In short, he played intelligently. And what's more important - he really seemed to enjoy playing.

The crucial moment of the match probably happened in the tiebreak of the first set. Andreev quickly went up 4-1. At 4-2, David hit a forehand that clipped the net and was initially called out, which would've given Andreev another minibreak. But umpire Bernardes overruled the call and the point was replayed. This time, David hit a clear forehand winner and positively erupted in a loud "Vamos!!!" I think that was the turning point, not the overrule as such but the winner that followed, which made David believe that he could still win the tiebreak. Which is exactly what he did.
In the second set David was utterly dominant, despite a long and hard-fought service game (including two break points) to go up 4-3. - Another great thing about this match, he didn't get broken.
In the third, Andreev found his way back into the match. But David remained focused and solid. And when his chance came at 5-4, he took it.

Match Stats...
1st serves: 50%
Aces: 3
Double Faults: 0
1st serves won: 77%
2nd serves won: 73%
Break Point conversion: 3/10
Winners (incl. serve): 53
Unforced Errors: 22

A 36-second (!) post-match interview with David.

More pics...

Juan Martin Del Potro has just defeated Nikolay Davydenko 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to give Argentina a 2-0 lead after the first day. Vamos!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

David to open the semi-final tie

David will play the first rubber against Russia's Igor Andreev.
Andreev, who spent much of his youth in Spain, is a clay court specialist and has a topspin forehand some commentators call the right-handed version of Nadal's.
It is the first match between these two.
And only one thing is certain - it will be a tough one for David.

The complete order of play looks like this:

Friday, September 19 (11am local time)
David Nalbandian vs Igor Andreev
Juan Martin Del Potro vs Nikolay Davydenko

Saturday, September 20 (12am)
Agustin Calleri & Guillermo Canas vs Dmitry Tursunov & Igor Kunitsyn

Sunday, September 21 (11am)
David Nalbandian vs Nikolay Davydenko
Juan Martin Del Potro vs Igor Andreev

However, both team captains have already said that the doubles line-up might change, depending in what happens on Friday.

On the Davis Cup website there's a new interview audio clip with David, which can be listened to or downloaded here.

Apparently, the weather forecast isn't too good for tomorrow, so there might be rain delays.
Let's hope not...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More training photos...



A new form of arm wrestling? Or do they just like each other a lot? ;)

Team Argentina at a news conference.

By the way - Marat Safin has by now confirmed that he will not play Davis Cup, as he's planning to play Bangkok next week. Good news for the Argentine team, I think.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cecilia Baccigalupo

I looked at the young man who was standing at the start line. I opened by arms wide. And I started calling him, spurring him to come towards me. I was with him every step of the way, without ever taking my eyes off him. He looked at me and smiled, and he ran fast. And I felt that he was dying to get to the finish line. He ran because his triumph, for him, meant being enveloped in my arms.

These words are part of Cecilia Baccigalupo's introduction on her foundation's webpage. As related at David's news page, his own foundation will join hers and that of soccer player Javier Zanetti to raise money for these special needs children. We hope he gets a lot of hugs himself and becomes strengthened thereby in readiness for the work ahead when Argentina meets Russia in the Davis Cup.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Davis Cup preparations begin, Mancini on David's role

While training has begun at Buenos Aires with a leisurely session for David and Agustin Calleri (the rest of the team has yet to arrive), Argentina's captain Alberto "Luli" Mancini has commented on David's projected role in the tie and his current physical state:
"In this tie, more than ever, it is likely that David will not play doubles. We will have to see how everything develops on Friday. But we are thinking about taking him out. David has recovered from his injury, he hasn't felt any pain for a month now and with the training sessions this week, he'll be gaining hours on the court."

"We're much better off than two months ago, with Juan Martin who has won a large number of matches during the last month and now comes to the Davis Cup at a very good moment. I think what bothers us more is the small number of matches David has played, but in these two weeks he'll find his form. In Davis Cup David has always found that extra motivation, which will make him play well."

Mancini also talked about the absence of Marat Safin's name on the Russian list of nominees:
"At the US Open, both Hernán Gumy (Safin's coach) and Marat told me that he was coming, which would make it strange if he didn't show up. I know that he has requested a visa to come. It's always like that, Safin will wait until the last moment to say if he plays or not. But I think that he'll show up because he told all of the Argentines that he was very eager to come."
(Picture and quotes from the Argentine newspaper Olé.)

Should Safin play after all (and nothing can be ruled out with Russia's captain Tarpishev), this could mean trouble for David. He's 3-6 for matches against Safin, though he won their last two encounters. They haven't played against each other since the Davis Cup Final 2006.

The Davis Cup website has a short interview clip with David, in which he talks about his thoughts and expectations for the semi-final tie.

As for David's plans for the rest of the season - I've just found his name on the players list for Stockholm (October 4 - 12). For the past four years, he played Vienna the week before Madrid, but it looks like this time he wants to do things differently.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Davis Cup Semi-Final - A Preview

Argentine Davis Cup captain Alberto Mancini has confirmed that David will lead the team in the semi-final tie against Russia from September 19 - 21. He has also nominated rising star Juan Martin Del Potro to play singles, as well as Guillermo Canas and Agustin Calleri.
According to David's official website, Mancini expects Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev to play singles for Russia. (While Dmitry Tursunov will probably make an appearance in doubles - my guess.) Though no official nominations have been made yet.
David has never played against Andreev, but he has a 5-3 match record against Davydenko. (Del Potro stands at 1-0 vs. Andreev and 0-1 vs. Davydenko.)

Argentina and Russia have faced each other four times in Davis Cup, with Argentina winning only one tie (in 2003, at home & on clay). Their last encounter took place in the 2006 final, which Russia won 3-2 at Moscow. Back then, David won both his singles matches against Safin and Davydenko, but it wasn't enough.

It will be Argentina's chance to reach a third Davis Cup final after 1981 and 2006. And maybe win it this time...

The tie will be held at the Parque Roca in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine team defeated Great Britain and Sweden earlier this year (both times with a score of 4-1) and which can accomodate up to 14.000 spectators.
Play will start on Friday, September 19 at 11 am local time (GMT -3hrs). The doubles match will take place on Saturday, September 20 at 12 am. On Sunday, September 21 play will resume at 11 am.


Edit: The official team nominations are out.

David Nalbandian
Juan Martin Del Potro
Agustin Calleri
Guillermo Canas
Captain: Alberto Mancini

Nikolay Davydenko
Igor Andreev
Dmitry Tursunov
Igor Kunitsyn
Captain: Shamil Tarpishev

For more info visit the official Davis Cup website.