Friday, October 31, 2008

The race for Shanghai

The ATP site is filled with speculation as to who will fill the last two places in Shanghai for the Tennis Masters Cup. Below are the final four outcomes, listed based on current betting odds which favour David and Jo-Wi:

[highest odds 36%]
Nalbandian - Tsonga final => winner joins Delpo in Shanghai

[medium odds 26%]
Nalbandian - Blake final => Nalbandian (if he wins) OR Delpo will join Blake in Shanghai

[medium odds 22%]
Davydenko - Tsonga final => Tsonga (win or lose) will join Delpo in Shangai

[lowest odds 16%]
Davydenko - Blake final => Blake (win or lose) will join Delpo in Shanghai

For the Davis Cup team managers, the difficult scenario would be the first with a David win since both top Argentine players would be getting themselves exhausted in Shanghai. Another interesting scenario would be David winning to Blake but ceding the place to Delpo after all.

Since both Nadal and Federer are injured, there's a chance that one of them might drop out anyway, assuring Delpo his place.

So these Paris Masters semis and final have a very exciting edge to them now.

David through to Paris Semis

In a classy and highly entertaining quarter final match today, David ended Andy Murray's winning streak at Masters events by defeating him 7-6(3), 6-3 for a place in the semifinals. There were plenty of long, chess-like rallies as well as several breaks of serve, the last of which saw David seal his victory after one hour and 43 minutes.
In tomorrow's semifinal, David will face Nikolay Davydenko, against whom he recently lost in the Davis Cup semi. Their match record stands at 5-4 in David's favour.

Set 1
The first 3 games were fairly straight, until 2-1 David. But then Murray found himself in trouble for the first time, making hardly any first serves at that moment, and being under constant attack from David on his second serve. At deuce, a great drop-shot from David earned him his first break point, which he promptly converted as a backhand from Murray landed wide. 3-1. But David was unable to extend his lead. With a bad service game, including a double fault and a few unforced errors, he handed the break straight back to Murray, 3-2. In the following game, David had 2 break points again, but Murray saved both with good (first) serves and came through. 3-3. After holding comfortably for 4-3, David missed 2 further chances to break in Murray's next game. 4-4. Eventually, the set went to a...
Tiebreak. A sliced backhand sailing long from Murray gave David an early mini-break and the 2-1 lead. At 4-2, Murray failed to get a deep second serve return from David back into play, another mini-break, 5-2. And the next 2 serves for David. A return error from Murray gave David 4 set points at 6-2. The first one Murray saved with a return winner off David's second serve. But on the second, Murray went for serve and volley with a drop-shot, David got there in time and responded with a forehand cross. 7-6(3)

Set 2
Murray served first in this set and immediately faced the next 2 break points. The first David squandered with a lazy forehand. But one of his several return winners today earned him another chance. And this time, it was Murray who made the error, break, 1-0 David. And he consolidated it with an easy hold, 2-0. But at 2-1, it was again a few unforced errors that got David in trouble and finally down 15-40. He saved the first break point with an ace, but on the second, Murray hit a great forehand cross to counter David's long-line backhand. So, another re-break, 2-2. The momentum could've switched at that moment - but it didn't. Instead, David broke straight back again, this time with a combination that worked really well today, a deep backhand approach down the line, and a volley catching Murray on the wrong foot. Next break, 3-2 David. This time, he held his own serve afterwards, 4-2. And then in Murray's game the next 2 break points. Murray saved one with an ace. But then on the second (an on Murray's second serve), David played return and volley, rushing to the net and finishing off the point with a backhand smash. Double break, 5-2. David now served for the match, but a forehand error and two good returns from Murray (off second serves) immediately saw David down 0-40. He fought back to 30-40, but then an error with the backhand gave Murray one break back, 5-3. Murray's next and final game of the match went to 30-30. And then came 2 of the best rallies in this match. The first included a lob from Murray that had David run back and playing the ball while turning around (and getting it back into play) until after great defending from both players, Murray finally made the error to give David his first match point. And he took it, after sending Murray left and right and finally playing a drop-shot Murray fell to the ground, trying to get his racquet on it - but it was just too good. 6-3.

But that's just the order in which things happened. The real story of this match is how much fun it was to watch. Especially the long rallies, with each player waiting for the right moment to attack. Murray used a lot of slice, often tried to take pace off the ball, not giving David the speed he likes. But whenever he dropped one too short or too high, David instantly increased the pace, often trying to change directions. Interesting for me was that Murray played relatively few drop-shots today. Instead, David was the one who used it and to perfection, I thought. At exactly the right moments. He also mostly picked the right moments to come to the net, which is to say behind very good approach shots, mostly down the line. And his returns were once again just great. True, Murray made his life easier by making only 47% first serves. But that also says something about the pressure David's returns were putting him under.
In short - a fantastic display from David.
Truly reminiscent of last year.
Well, let's hope he can play like that again, tomorrow.

AMS TV post-match interview with David.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 58%
Aces: 2
DFs: 5
BP conversion: 5/13
Points won on 1st serve: 77%
Points won on 2nd serve: 40%
Winners: 31
UEs: 26

(Reuters Pictures)

(Tournament website)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best of 3: David!

After only 66 minutes on court, David won what was his third match against Delpo in three weeks today, prevailing 6-4, 6-0. Under the eyes of the Argentine and Spanish Davis Cup captains, Delpo seemed to struggle, first with his nerves, then later with his fitness. But David never lost his focus and played a good, and in patches even brilliant match.

With today's victory, David has reached the quarter final, where he will face Andy Murray tomorrow.

Set 1
After both held their serves for 1-1, already in the third game Delpo found himself down 0-40. A result of too few first serves and the way David immediately went after his second serves. Apart from that Delpo was making lots of errors off both wings. But David too was still in the process of finding his range, squandering the first 2 of those 3 break points with lazy errors. On the third, however, it was Delpo's turn again. His backhand error meant the first break for David. Who was in control of most of the rallies at that stage. He was still missing his groundstrokes here and there, but compared to yesterday's match, it was an entirely different level. And he also served a lot better. David held to love to go up 3-1. Then Delpo made it 3-2. But David's next service game turned into a very tight affair as suddenly his first serve went missing. At 30-30, Delpo easily put away a short ball from David to gain his first break point, though failed to convert it, thanks to a backhand error. But then 2 backhand errors in a row from David meant another break point, and the re-break 3-3. Still, David didn't get frustrated or down on himself. Instead, in the following game he played two great returns drawing errors from Delpo and at 15-40 had the next 2 break points. And at that moment the netcord, which had been repeatedly "against" David yesterday, let a ball from Delpo drop short and high - an invitation David gladly accepted, hitting a forehand winner cross. So, another break for David, 4-3. Which he again consolidated by holding his serve to love, 5-3. At the start of Delpo's next game, David played a drop-shot Delpo didn't even try to chase down. He just stayed where he was and seemed to be in pain (problems with his toe). Moments later, his forehand error meant 15-40 and 2 set points for David. But Delpo saved both of them, one with drop-shot/passing shot combination, the other with a forehand winner. Eventually, he came through, 5-4. So David had to serve it out. A forced error on either side, 15-15. Then David's backhand long-line caught Delpo off-guard at the net, 30-15. Service winner, 40-15, 2 further set points. And then - the ace. Delpo challenged it, but the ball was right on the line. 6-4.

Set 2
Delpo's first game in this set consisted of 3 forehand errors in a row, an ace, and then a double fault. So David went immediately up a break, 1-0. And once again, he afterwards held his own serve to love, 2-0. Delpo's next game was when David started hitting return winners. So far, his many great, deep returns had put Delpo under constant pressure, often enough keeping him from getting into the rallies, especially on second serve. But now, David took it up another notch, hitting clean return winners both long-line and cross that drew "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd. 2 of those in a row in that game gave him further break points at 15-40. Delpo's forehand landed wide, double break, 3-0. This time though, David had a little more trouble holding serve afterwards. His next game went to deuce twice, but in the end, 2 aces a row got him through to 4-0. After being down 0-30, Delpo had a game point in the following game. Which David erased with another great return winner. On the following point, Delpo played a backhand that was called out. David gestured at Delpo, saying it was out. Delpo still took the challenge - and the ball had caught the line. Some long looks between the two followed... And another game point for Delpo, but at that moment David hit an unbelievable running forehand long-line. His best shot today, for me. Another lucky netcord gave David another break point. Delpo responded with an "all or nothing" ace on second serve. But David was on fire now and played his next stunning shot: a backhand long-line from standing well outside the field. Next break point. Next backhand winner David, triple break, 5-0. Serving for the match, there was a brief moment of suspense when a forehand error from David meant 30-30. But then a short return from Delpo set up David's backhand winner cross and the first match point. And David took it with a last backhand down the line. 6-0.

At the net after the match, the first thing David did was to ask Delpo if he was okay. An understandable question, considering Delpo's performance in the second set (during which he only won a total of 13 points). Somewhere around the middle of that set I got the impression that Delpo stopped running down balls. If they came roughly in his direction, he'd have a go, swinging at them. But not, if there was any serious runnung involved. Perhaps, he was in pain. But to me, he simply looked tired, both mentally and physically.

But that doesn't take anything away from the fact that David played a very good match today. He started out making a few too many errors, but his groundstrokes got better and better as the match went on. The one big weakness was, as always, his second serve. But at least, he made 64% first serves today. A very good number by his standards. The returns were great and very solid today. Allowing Delpo to win only 57% of points on first and a meagre 27% of points on second serve. And some of his returns in the second set were just out of this world...

AMS TV post-match interview with David.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 64%
Aces: 6
DFs: 2
BP Conversion: 5/11
Points won on 1st serve: 83%
Points won on 2nd serve: 47%
Winners: 25
UEs: 15

(Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

(Reuters Pictures)

(Lionel Cironneau/AP Photo)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

David beats Kiefer to set up 3rd clash with Delpo in 3 weeks

(Lionel Cironneau/AP Photo)

It wasn't pretty but it was enough: In his second round match today, David defeated Nicolas Kiefer 7-6(5), 6-3 in a little over 2 hours. The first set alone took 80 minutes and was full of unforced errors and poor serving on both sides. But David managed to win the eventual tiebreaker, helped by 2 untimely double faults from Kiefer. In the second set, David immediately broke the German's serve and then found his rhythm.

Set 1
Kiefer served first, struggling from the start to get his first serve in. But after a couple of deuces he came through, 1-0. David's first game went by very quickly as he held to love, 1-1. What I didn't know then was that it should be his last quick game for a while. Kiefer held relatively easily for 2-1. And then followed the first of David's epic serve games today. Due mostly to the fact that he hardly made any first serves. But at that stage, he also served to Kiefer's backhand far too often, allowing Kiefer to put him under pressure with good returns. After having had a game point, David ended up facing a break point. Kiefer squandered it himself, missing a second serve return. But a horrible backhand error from David (of which there were quite a few today) gave Kiefer a second chance. And this time, an unlucky netcord for David sealed the break, 3-1. Fortunately though, Kiefer was unable to use this advantage. In the following game, he gifted David his first break point with a wild forehand. And David converted it with a backhand long-line, good enough to draw the error. Re-break, 3-2. David's next service game turned into an epic again, though he had already been up 40-15. (At that moment, he had made only 29% first serves.) It was also during that game that David started looking at his left knee as if he was feeling pain... In any case, a deuce battle ensued during which another gruesome backhand error from David gave Kiefer another break point. But David saved it with a good forehand inside-out. And he eventually came through, 3-3. In Kiefer's next game, it was David's turn again to have a break point. Which Kiefer saved with a service winner and then held, 4-3. During this phase, service games on both sides were lengthy and tight. Though mostly because of both players' inability to play a few decent points in a row. It was still an error fest. But at least, David now started to serve a little better. 4-4. Kiefer's next game saw the next deuce battle and 2 further break points for David. But Kiefer saved both, one with an ace, the other with a stunning half-volley drop-shot. 5-4. At that moment, the cameras picked up Rafa Nadal who was in the audience. The fact that this got by far the biggest cheer from the crowd really says all about the quality of the match... But David really served better now and for the first time since the start of the match, he held to love 5-5. Two fairly short games later, they were at 6-6.
Tiebreak. Kiefer started with a double fault, but quickly got the mini-break back with a forehand winner. After that, they stayed on serve until at 4-4, Kiefer served another double fault. And then made a backhand error to give David 2 set points at 6-4, the first on his own serve. David chose that moment to rush to the net, but Kiefer responded with a well-timed lob. But on the second set point, on Kiefer's serve, David hit a beautiful angled forehand cross Kiefer failed to get back into play. 7-6(5)

Set 2
David began this set. His first game briefly went to deuce, but helped by 2 aces he held, 1-0. At 30-30 in his next game, Kiefer went for another lob. But this time, it wasn't good enough, David replied with a winner that earned him another break point. Kiefer failed to make a first serve and off the second, David hit a return winner that just caught the line. Something neither Kiefer's challenge, nor his debate with umpire Lahyani could change. Break for David, 2-0. A double fault got David in a little bit of trouble and his next game and to 15-30. But he won the next three points, 3-0. The quality of the match was getting better now, with fewer errors and better serving on both sides. David now mostly served to Kiefer's forehand, which worked a lot better. And he also moved much better than in the first set. There were no more signs of any possible problems with his left leg. At 4-2, David's service game went to deuce, thanks to another unlucky netcord. But he responded (now supported by the crowd) with a forehand winner and a second serve Kiefer failed to return, 5-2. Kiefer now had to serve to stay in the match. On the first point, David hit the only passing winner he managed today, even though Kiefer advanced to the net on numerous occasions. A great running forehand cross meant 30-30 and then Kiefer's seventh double fault of the match gave David a first match point. But David's return was too weak at that moment and Kiefer had no difficulties hitting a forehand winner. After 2 further deuces (and some swearing from David), Kiefer finally held, 5-3. Then David served for the match. 2 return errors from Kiefer meant a quick 30-0. Then it was time for David's second double fault of the match. He took a challenge, but to no avail, the ball was out, even if it was only by a millimetre. David's reaction: He grinned. And then played a lob that landed wide, 30-30. A forehand error from Kiefer meant match point #2. This time, Kiefer attacked David's weak second serve, came to the net and made the point, deuce. But then he failed to make the next return off David's second serve. Match point #3. And David took it with his fifth and final ace today. 6-3.

Not a good match, but still a win. And it was good to see that he played better towards the end. With his serve consolidating and his groundstrokes having more depth. But it won't be enough against Delpo tomorrow. Well, we'll see if that was just a bad day he had today. Or if he is running a little out of steam, playing his fourth consecutive week.

AMS TV post-match interview.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 52%
Aces: 5
DFs: 2
BP Conversion: 2/6
Points won on 1st serve: 70%
Points won on 2nd serve: 56%
Winners: 24
UEs: 31

(Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

(Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Doubles: David & Lucas pass first test in Paris

David and Lucas Arnold Ker have won their first round doubles match today. They beat French duo Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Josselin Ouanna 6-2, 7-5.
David served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, but despite a first match point at that stage he got broken. Eventually though, they managed to win in two sets, after all.
But in the second round, a much bigger challenge awaits with Jonas Björkman and Kevin Ullyett, currently #5 in the doubles race.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Basel final: David falls to in-form Federer

Despite a good performance, David was beaten 6-3, 6-4 today by a Roger Federer, who was playing close to his old "divine" form. The Swiss was utterly dominant on serve, allowing David not a single break point and dropping a total of only 7 points when serving. The match lasted 70 minutes.

Set 1
The first 3 games were short and straight on both sides, without any longer rallies. But at 2-1 Federer, David first struggled on serve. This led to a prolonged deuce battle in the course of which Federer had altogether 5 break points. But David managed to save all of them and eventually hold for 2-2, helped by a couple of timely aces and some errors from Federer. This game saw some of the best exchanges in the match. But it was also the moment Federer began to take control of the rallies, sending David left and right and leaving him with hardly a chance to attack, himself. Apart from that, David was virtually chanceless during Federer's serve games, which invariably went by in matter of moments. In his next service game (3-2), David faced the next 2 break points. And this time, his forehand error gave Federer the break, 4-2. At 5-2, David managed to hang in there and make it 5-3. But after that, Federer had no problems at all serving out the set. 6-3.

Set 2
This time, the first 2 games went by quickly, until at 1-1 Federer had the next break points on David's serve. This time, he took the second one with an incredible backhand winner, 2-1. That was the moment David began to make little helpless gestures. Though he kept his focus. And he also kept playing well. But Federer was simply too good today. David managed to hold his serve throughout the rest of the set without any further deuces or break points. But he was still trailing by a break. And Federer continued to cruise on serve. At 4-3, there was a hint of a chance when his service game went to 30-30. But 2 winners later, Federer was leading 5-3. David held for 5-4. And then Federer served out the match to love. 6-4.

David tried his best, but it simply wasn't enough against Federer, who really played like in the "old days", today. David hardly got any cheap points at all, instead he had to fight for each and every single point on his serve. In the rallies, Federer often beat him for speed. Not because David wasn't moving well. I thought he really was. But Federer's groundstrokes had a deadly accuracy today. That and his serve allowed him control of this match.
So David didn't lose because he played badly. He lost because Federer was better today. Still, I hope that David will take the good things from Basel and now move confidently on to Paris.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 67%
Aces: 5
DFs: 3
BPs: 0
Points won on 1st serve: 66%
Points won on 2nd serve: 50%

(Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

(Reuters Pictures)

(Ian Walton/Getty Images)

(Georgios Kefalas/AP Photo)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Revenge for Madrid: David downs Delpo and makes the final

(Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

After falling to Delpo in straight sets last week in Madrid, David turned things around this time and defeated his teammate 6-4, 6-4 for a place in the final. It's the fourth time he has made the final at Basel, and it's also the fourth final he has reached this season (after Buenos Aires, Acapulco and Stockholm).
There, he will face Roger Federer, who beat Feliciano Lopez in the other semi-final today.

I wish I could write a summary of this match, but due to family commitments, I was only able to watch exactly three games. The one where David broke early in the second set and the last two of the match, Delpo holding for 5-4 and then David serving it out.
What I could gather from these few moments was that David went for a lot with his groundstrokes today and hit them very deep, constantly putting Delpo under pressure. I've read that David served extremely well, especially in the first set, where he made a total of 86% first serves. And I've also read that Delpo took a medical timeout as he was having troubles with his toe again. Though in what little I saw of the match, he didn't really seem to be affected by it.
What I did get to see, however, was how David served for the match and Delpo had a break point. Which David saved with a nice drop-shot/passing shot combination. And then the two errors (return and forehand) that sealed David's victory.

I was also able to watch the post-match interview they did with a very relaxed and happy David. Who said that in his opinion, he and Delpo are "very even. The guy who wakes up better wins... Today, I was the lucky one." The interviewer also asked what kept him from winning a Slam with all his talent, what it was that was missing. David's reply: "that I win one." Despite the fact that the other semi still had to be played, David was also asked about his great record against Federer and how he has managed to beat him on numerous occasions. David replied by telling him that for him Federer is someone he has known since they were kids.

So we have another David vs Federer match. Number eighteen on the Tour. Only that this time, they'll meet on Federer's home ground. At "his" tournament. Federer currently has a slender lead in terms of the match record: 9-8. And he won their last encounter, which took place earlier this year at Monte-Carlo on clay. Before that, David beat him at Madrid and Paris last year.
Matches between David and Federer are always special, they're extremely nerve-racking (for me, at least) but they're also great because these two seem to bring out the best in each other's game.

In the evening, David and Eduardo Schwank lost their doubles semi-final against German duo Christopher Kas and Philipp Kohlschreiber, who prevailed 3-6, 7-6(9), 10-2. Still, a good run given that it was their first appearance together.

Match Stats:
1st serve: 75%
Aces: 7
DFs: 1
BP Conversion: 3/5
Points won on 1st serve: 74%
Points won on 2nd serve: 57%
UEs: 18

(Ian Walton/Getty Images)

(Reuters Pictures)

And yet another clash with Delpo

This time at the Paris Masters Series tournament. The draw is as follows:

[4] Andy Murray vs Bye
Marcos Baghdatis vs Sam Querrey
Tommy Robredo vs Jeremy Chardy (WC)
Bye vs [15] Fernando Verdasco
[9] Juan Martin Del Potro vs Bye
Mario Ancic vs Rainer Schüttler
Nicolas Kiefer vs Ivo Karlovic
Bye [8] David Nalbandian

So David may meet Delpo again in the 3rd round, just as in Madrid. It is a very unfortunate turn of events for these two Davis Cup team mates.

Friday, October 24, 2008

David through to semis - another clash with Delpo ahead

In their first ever ecounter, David beat German qualifier Benjamin Becker 7-6(4), 6-4 and secured a spot in the semi-finals. It's the fifth time he has reached that stage at Basel, though the first since 2005. Tomorrow, he'll once again face his Davis Cup teammate Juan Martin Del Potro in the semi-final.

Set 1
David started the match by holding his serve to love and then having a total of 4 break points in Becker's first game. None of which he was able to convert as Becker came up with his best points at those moments. 1-1. This was followed by a series of fairly easy holds on both sides, without any further deuces of break points. At 5-4 and 6-5, Becker again held his serve to stay in the set, which consequently went to a tiebreak. David instantly went down a mini-break, thanks to a lazy forehand error. But he quickly got the mini-break back with a clean return winner (2-1). At 3-2, a volley into the net from Becker meant that now David was up a mini-break, 4-2. Becker won the remaining point on his serve, 4-3. With an ace and a service winner, David extended his lead to 6-3, gaining 3 set points. On the first, David went for a drop-shot which landed wide. But then on the second, Becker made an unforced error. 7-6(4)

Set 2
This time, Becker began and immediately found himself down 0-40 after some great, aggressively played points from David. But the resulting 3 break points Benni Becker saved in the manner of his famous namesake Boris - with 3 aces in a row. Becker held and went up 1-0. After that, David played a few loose points in his next game, including a silly drop-shot and a forehand error and ended up with all in all 3 break points against him, the first (and the last) for Becker in the match. But though David didn't hit 3 aces to erase them, he saved them all, the second one with a great backhand smash, and eventually held, 1-1. Still, that hold didn't really seem to lighten his mood. At the end of Becker's next (and rather straightforward) game, David received a code violation from umpire Pascal Maria, apparently for "unsportsmanlike conduct". What exactly he had done to merit it, I couldn't tell as the quality of the stream was simply too poor. Anyway, at least David held his serve after that, 2-2. In Becker's next game, David saved a game point with a great return. A backhand down the line set up David's eight break point. And this time, an unforced error from Becker finally got David the break, 3-2. His following game was a bit shaky and briefly saw him at 0-30 but a couple of good serves kept him out of trouble, 4-2. Becker made it 4-3. David's next game was again of the shaky sort, this time including 2 deuces, but a timely ace and a wild forehand miss from Becker eventually meant 5-3. Becker now had to serve to stay in the match. At 30-30 an error with the forehand from Becker gave David his match point. David tried to hit a lob in the rally that followed, but it was to weak and Becker easily put it away. The German won the next 2 points, 5-4. And then David served for the match. Another timely ace gave him 40-15 and 2 further match points. The first of which he squandered with a double fault... But on the second, Becker's backhand found the net. 6-4

A much better match, in my opinion. He didn't look as sluggish and slow as he did yesterday. And his forehand was a lot better, much better timing and far less errors. I also liked how he mostly kept, as well as attacked Becker on his much weaker backhand side. Drawing errors time and time again.
The only problem I saw was how little trouble Becker had returning David's serves. And not just the second ones. And Benni Becker really isn't so very great at returns...
Another thing that struck me: David made use of the challenge today. More than I've ever seen him do that in one match. - And I'd still like to know what the "unsportsmanlike conduct" was all about...

So tomorrow, Delpo. Again.
I saw his match against Andreev today. Delpo won 6-4, 7-5, which although close was never really in doubt. At the end of the match, though he seemed to be having problems with his toe again. Kept looking like he was in pain and gestured over at his coach.
Well, we'll find out tomorrow. If Delpo is okay. And if David can take it up at least another notch or two. Because he'll have to.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 57%
Aces: 8
DFs: 2
BP Conversion: 1/9
Points won on 1st serve: 86%
Points won on 2nd serve: 48%

(Ian Walton/Getty Images)

(Reuters Pictures)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Into the Doubles Semifinals

David and Eduardo Schwank defeated Berdych/Kiefer in the doubles quarterfinal. Comfortable score at 6-3 6-4. In the semifinal they will next face the German pairing of Kas and Kohlschreiber.

David through to the quarter final, but only just...

It took almost two and a half hours and a bit of luck but in the end, David defeated Kristof Vliegen 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(4). After a bright start, David lost his momentum already in the first set and looked rather sluggish throughout the rest of the match. But an exceptional point he played in the tiebreak and a few untimely errors from Vliegen eventually allowed him to pull through.

Set 1
David really was off to a bright start. He immediately broke Vliegen to go up 2-0 and then held to love for 3-0. At this stage, he was in complete control of the rallies, putting Vliegen under a lot of pressure with his groundstrokes. David had another break point in Vliegen's next service game but the Belgian saved it with a forehand winner and held, 3-1. And then came the game where things began to change. And the errors started. After squandering 2 game points, David gifted Vliegen the re-break with a backhand error. Which he "celebrated" by flinging his racquet arcoss the court. 3-2. After that, both held their serves until at 5-4, Vliegen served to stay in the set. A drop-shot into the net from the Belgian meant 2 set points for David. He took the first, coming to the net, guessing Vliegen's passing shot right and answering it with a volley winner. 6-4.

Set 2
Again, David served first. There was a series of easy holds from both. On David's side because Vliegen didn't make too many returns. On Vliegen's side because David made a lot of unforced errors, especially with the forehand. He also failed to capitalize on the fact that Vliegen only made 53% first serves. At 5-4, Vliegen served to stay in the match and once again held easily, 5-5. But then followed a disastrous service game from David, which should end up costing him the set. A string of errors saw David quickly down 0-40. Vliegen failed to make an easy volley on the first break point. But on the second, David played a drop-shot into the net, break, 6-5 Vliegen. Then followed the longest and closest game of the entire match. In the course of its epic deuce battle, David had 2 break points, both of which fell victim to forehand errors. Vliegen on the other hand squandered 4 set points, but eventually converted the fifth when David failed to make a return. 5-7. And this time a warning for David from upire Fergus Murphy for throwing his racquet again.

Set 3
Once more, David served first. And again, both easily held their serves until 3-3, when Vliegen had two break points. But David saved both of them. At 6-5 David, an error from Vliegen gave David a match point, which Vliegen saved with a forehand winner. Eventually, the set went to a tiebreak. They traded mini-breaks early on, but at 5-4 David played a fantastic point at the net with a great reflex volley that meant 6-4 and 2 match points. And after returning rather poorly throughout the match, David chose that moment to hit a great, deep return that caught Vliegen off guard and drew the error. 7-6(4)

Match Stats...
1st Serve: 57%
Aces: 11
DFs: 3
BP Conversion: 2/6
Points won on 1st serve: 75%
Points won on 2nd serve: 67%

(Reuters Pictures)

(first and last photo: Georgios Kefalas, AP Photo)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Round 1: David beats Montanes - again

Eleven days after their last meeting at the Stockholm Open, David once again defeated Albert Montanes in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2.
The match only took 58 minutes. And David didn't face a single break point.

Set 1
Both easily held their serve at the beginning of the match. David served well, which kept him out of trouble in his games. But he also made quite a few unforced errors (as always preferably with the forehand) and hardly any returns, especially off Montanes' first serve. At 4-3, David's serve game saw two deuces but in the end, he pulled through, helped by some unforced errors from Montanes. 4-4. - And just like in Stockholm, that was the moment David began to take control of the match. In Montanes' next serve game, he played three great points in a row (including a wonderful backhand lob), which earned him the first break points of the match. After squandering the first two, on the third a backhand from Montanes clipped the net and landed wide. Break, 5-4 David. - But that is where the first set ended for me, because at that moment the satellite feed from Basel broke down. And I thought I was on the safe side, watching the match on TV... Anyway, I only saw it on the scoreboard but David served out the set. 6-4.

Set 2.
Again, Montanes served first, visibly frustrated now. David on the hand seemed much more relaxed and confident. His first return winner of the match brought him two more break points, and this time he took the first, with an angled backhand Montanes simply couldn't get back over the net. So another break for David, 1-0. His next game was a little shaky and briefly went to 15-30, but after that David won the next three points, 2-0. At 3-1, Montanes struggled again, with David fighting back to deuce after 40-0, but he eventually held, 3-2. David held to love, 4-2. And then it was time for the next break points, at 0-40 on Montanes' serve. The Spaniard saved the first two with good serves. But then his unforced error meant the double break for David and the 5-2 lead. Serving for the match, David quickly went up 30-0. But what came next I don't think I've ever seen from him before. Double fault, 30-15. Ace, 40-15, 2 match points. Double fault, 40-30. Ace... 6-2.

Watching the match, I though he looked a bit sluggish at the start. Almost as if he wasn't fully awake yet. But he definitely "woke up" as the match went on. I also noticed that he seemed to have a blister or some sort of small wound on his right hand, below his little finger.
In any case, he served well today. Much better again than in his match against Delpo. And the groundstrokes got more and more solid throughout the match.
But the most important thing is of course that he's through to the second round.

David will play his second round match on Thursday. His opponent will be qualifier Kristof Vliegen from Belgium (who beat Philipp Petzschner 6-2, 6-3). David has only played against Vliegen once, and lost. But that was four years ago and on clay.

Edit: In the evening, David and Eduardo Schwank won their doubles match against Petzschner/Peya 6-3, 7-5. In the second round, i.e. the quarter final, they will now face Tomas Berdych and Nicolas Kiefer, who took out the top seeds Nestor/Zimonjic today.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 64%
Aces: 6
DFs: 4
BP conversion: 4/7
Points won on 1st serve: 91%
Points won on 2nd serve: 50%

(Georgios Kefalas, AP Photo/Keystone)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Basel Preview

On Monday, the Davidoff Swiss Indoors will kick off at the St. Jakobshalle in Basel. The tournament is famous for being Roger Federer's home event, where he used to be a ballkid. But Federer isn't the only one who has quite a bit of history with this tournament...

This year, David will play Basel for the seventh straight time. He hasn't missed this tournament since winning the title at his premiere back in 2002. Since then, he has reached two more finals and another semi. Though it has to be said that in the last two years, he wasn't as successful, due to two defeats at the hands of Stanislas Wawrinka (QF '06 and first round '07; both times with the same scoreline 6-7, 2-6). Still, David obviously enjoys playing this tournament, otherwise he wouldn't go back there, year after year.

Today, the draw was released. David is seeded second (behind Federer). Here is his half:

[6] Igor Andreev (RUS) vs Jürgen Melzer (AUT)
Denis Gremelmayr (GER) vs Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER)
Jose Acasuso (ARG) vs [WC] Stephane Bohli (SUI)
George Bastl (SUI) vs [3] Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG)

[5] Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) vs Benjamin Becker (GER)
Andreas Beck (GER) vs Nicolas Devilder (FRA)
Kristof Vliegen (BEL) vs (WC) Philipp Petzschner
Albert Montanes (ESP) vs [2] David Nalbandian (ARG)

In other words, after a relatively easy-looking first round against Montanes (David beat him comfortably at Stockholm), he could face Petzschner, who just won the title in Vienna. And then in a possible quarter final - Wawrinka again.
I can't even speculate or think any further than that.
What a draw for David. Again...

David will also play doubles with Eduardo Schwank, who's coached by David's brother Javier. As far as I know, they've never played doubles together. But they apparently train together, now and then.
They will face the German/Austrian duo Philipp Petzschner and Alexander Peya in the first round.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Adios Madrid... Delpo defeats David 6-4, 6-2

David's Madrid campaign ended in the third round today with a loss to his Davis Cup teammate Juan Martin Del Potro. Last year, David defeated him at the same stage in the tournament. But today, Delpo simply was the much more consistent and therefore better player.

Both were nervous at the beginning. But it was David who caught the worst possible start, immediately going down a double break to give Delpo a 3-0 lead. He managed to get one break back after that, converting the break point with a fantastic lob. But the one break Delpo still had proved to be enough for him to take the first set 6-4.
David's game had consolidated in the course of the first set, but when it came to opening the second, he played another horrible first service game and got broken right away, again. It's not like he didn't have any chances after that. He had break points at 2-1, and another one at 3-2. But Delpo saved all of them with great serves. At 4-2, David played another disastrous serve game with 3 unforced errors in a row and then finally a double fault. Double break. 5-2. After that, Delpo easily served out the match.

I think, David's problem today was his second serve, on which he had to rely far too often and on which he won far too few points. He didn't get enough chances to dictate the rallies. On the other hand, Delpo played smartly, keeping David way back with deep, fast groundstrokes. Only rarely David found a way to cut the points short by coming in to the net. A lot of the time, he was merely trying to retrieve Delpo's shots. Another problem was the backhand today. Which also let him down, especially towards the end of the match. I think that was why he lost his confidence in the end. As for the returns, he did reasonably well on Delpo's second serves. But whenever Delpo made a first serve, he was practicaly guaranteed the point. And unlike David today, Delpo served well when he had to.

So - a bitter loss for David. Surely not made any easier by the fact that it has come at the hands of his teammate and friend. And it will cost David dearly in terms of ranking points...

Match Stats...
1st serve: 51%
Aces: 6
DFs: 5
BP Conversion: 1/5
Points won on 1st serve: 75%
Points won on 2nd serve: 30%
Winners: 21
UEs: 27

(Victor R. Caivano/AP Photo)

For the record: David also lost his doubles with Lucas Arnold Ker today. In a very tight match, they went down to Simon Aspelin and Julian Knowle 7-6(7), 7-6(9). Which surely didn't lighten David's mood...

(Paul White/AP Photo)

So it really is adios Madrid.
- And grüezi, Basel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

History repeating: David beats Berdych in Madrid

David has once again defeated Tomas Berdych for a place in the third round of Madrid, just like he did last year. After one hour and 57 minutes, David converted his first match point to win the match 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-1.

A brief summary...
Set 1. David served first in this set but though he sometimes struggles to hold at the start of match, he didn't have much of a problem with it today. At 2-1, David broke Berdych's serve for the first time and to love. 3-1. In the following game, Berdych had 2 break points of his own, but David saved both of them and went up 4-1. Both then held to make it 5-2. Serving to stay in the set, Berdych quickly went down 0-40, thoroughly outplayed in that game. David took the first of his three set points, easily putting away a short ball from Berdych, 6-2.

Set 2. Again, David served first. But after having dominated the majority of rallies in the first set, he suddenly let his concentration slip and began this set with a horrible serve game, riddled with unforced errors. The result: an immediate break for Berdych and the 1-0 lead. Berdych now found his way back into the match, served better and started to put pressure on David. The tables were turning. And David's control of the match was gone, but he stayed calm and tried to fight his way back. At 4-3, he had a total of 4 break points but squandered all of them, allowing Berdych to scrape through to 5-3. David easily held for 5-4. Then Berdych served for the set, but only to face 2 further break points. On the second, his backhand landed wide, giving David a last-minute re-break, 5-5. Eventually, the set went to a tiebreaker. Most of which I didn't see because that was the moment my stream chose to break down on me. By the time it was working again, Berdych had 2 set points at 6-4. David saved the first on Berdych's serve with a great return. But when it was his turn to serve on the second - he double-faulted. So set 2 went to Berdych, 7-6(5).

Set 3. This time, Berdych served first. But despite winning the second set, he was unable to carry the momentum over to the third. Instead, it was David who now took control of the points again. By serving better, but especially by returning Berdych's serves, no matter whether second or first. And that allowed him to dominate the rallies from the beginning on. David broke in the very first game of the set and quickly consolidated his break, 2-0. Then Berdych managed to hold - but for the last time in this match. The second break (4-1) David secured with another amazing return off a first serve that drew Berdych's error. Then he held his own serve to love, 5-1. Serving to stay in the match, Berdych went up 40-15 before David fought back to deuce. Yet another great return brought him his first match point. And David took it, with a running forehand down the line. 6-1.

In a way, the way this match turned out reminded me a little of the Stockholm final. With David losing his focus in the second set (though it happened later in the set in Stockholm). But again, he remained very calm and confident, concentrating on holding his own serve and waiting for his chance to break back. I also really liked his attitude today, his determination. I'd rather see him destroy a racquet (like he did after the double fault that ended set 2) than not showing any emotions on court.
But the best thing was how well he played for most of the match. The way he constructed the points. His backhand. And those returns...

Tomorrow, the next big test awaits. A special one.
Because tomorrow in round 3, David will face Delpo.
Just like he did here last year in the third round.
Back then, David won 6-2, 6-4.
But a lot has happened since then.

AMS TV post-match interview with a very relaxed David.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 64%
Aces: 9 (more than Berdych, who had only 6)
DFs: 2
Break Point Conversion: 6/11
Points won on 1st serve: 77%
Points won on 2nd serve: 56%
Winners: 32
Unforced Errors: 34


(Paul White/AP Photos)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Madrid: Doubles Photos & Singles Preview

Here are some photos from the doubles match today...

(AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

Looks like they were really having a great time!

But whether this match has fulfilled its purpose and helped David getting used to the conditions in Madrid, we'll find out tomorrow. When he's scheduled to play his first singles match (second round) against Tomas Berdych.
It will take place on the Pista Central, not before 12:30pm CET.

A preview
Almost exactly one year ago, David and Berdych met for the last time - in the second round of Madrid. It was the match where David came back from 4-6, 0-4 to eventually win in a third-set tiebreaker. I'm sure they both still remember that match, though certainly with very different feelings...
Tomorrow will be their fifth encounter. Of the previous four, David has won three (his only loss came at the World Team Cup in '05), including both times they played on a hard court. While David has just won Stockholm, Berdych recently triumphed at Tokyo. Being unseeded in Madrid this time, Berdych had to play in the first round. There, he easily crushed a lacklustre (and apparently injured) Rainer Schüttler 6-1, 6-2.
But I think that David has a good chance. First of all because of their match record. He knows that he has beaten him before. And that he has even so after being at the brink of defeat. Apart from that David generally does well against players who mostly rely on the power of their groundstrokes. But the returns will be the key. If David can find a way to neutralize Berdych's serve then he'll have a good chance, indeed.

ATP Masters Series TV have a pre-tournament interview with David.