Saturday, January 29, 2011

Santiago Draw

As the top seed, David not only has his own quarter of the draw this time, he has his own half. And David's half looks like this:

[1] David Nalbandian (ARG) vs Carlos Berlocq (ARG)
Ricardo Hocevar (BRA) vs Horacio Zeballos (ARG)
Peter Luczak (AUS) vs Pablo Andujar (ESP)
[WC] Paul Capdeville (CHI) vs [5] Potito Starace (ITA)

[4] Juan Ignacio Chela (ARG) vs Jorge Aguilar (CHI)
Caio Zampieri (BRA) vs [WC] Nicolas Massu (CHI)
Eduardo Schwank (ARG) vs Igor Andreev (RUS)
Facundo Bagnis (ARG) vs [8] Santiago Giraldo (COL)

The full draw you can view here.

So David will face one of his countrymen in the first round. It will be his second encounter with Carlos Berlocq (currently ranked #65). The first one took place at Roland Garros 2008, a match that David won very easily in straights (that was directly before the infamous Chardy match).
And also in the second round, David could meet another Argentine, his Davis Cup teammate Horacio Zeballos (currently ranked #108). They've trained together, played doubles together and they played an exhibition match not too long ago - but they've never met on the Tour.
In the quarterfinal, David could find himself up against Potito Starace (#49). They've played three times so far, all on clay and David won all three of their encounters, including the one that took place almost exactly one year ago - David's comeback match at Buenos Aires, last year.
In a possible semifinal, Juan Ignacio Chela or Santiago Giraldo could be David's opponent. Against Chela, David has 4-2 record (having won the last four matches), whereas playing against Giraldo would be a premiere.

In any case - a nice draw for David. We'll see whether he can take advantage of it.

Update (31/01)
As predicted, David is ranked #19 as of this week and back inside the Top 20.
(The other rankings mentioned in this post have also been updated.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Radio Interview

So much about there being no news from David at the moment. Apart from the Telam interview that I added as an update to the previous post, David also talked to Argentine radio station Radio 10 - an interview that apparently saw him in good humour. I haven't been able to find the complete interview, only some quotes that were taken from it, about various topics.
Among them the Australian Open - and Lleyton Hewitt. And although David said a couple of fairly nice things about him directly after their match, it's clear now that this was not the beginning of a wonderful new friendship. As by now, David is back to his usual statements about Hewitt, that he "doesn't get along" with him and that "there are few who know him and get along with him".
"I would've liked to make it to the quarterfinal but that match against Hewitt was much more than just a first-round encounter. The level during the match was very high, it was like a fourth-round match or a quarterfinal."
And here's the 'final verdict' on what happened afterwards, in the second round...
"The dizziness was the result of the fatigue from the previous match. The doctor told me it's normal that the body doesn't want to suffer another, similar strain. Therefore it's tough to recover from matches and go on playing."
While David probably didn't exchange more words with Hewitt than necessary, there's somebody else he did talk to while he was in Melbourne. And not because on-court etiquette required it - Juan Martin Del Potro. Apparently the two of them met at the Australian Open and "talked a little". Which is good news, though it's also clear what's the main interest David has in Delpo regaining his form.
"I talked to Del Potro a little in Australia and he told me that he still hasn't been able to gain rhythm. But he's a pillar of the team and hopefully he'll be fine soon so he can play Davis Cup."
Someone who recently talked about David is Roger Federer. Now, it's David's turn to talk about Federer, about similarities and (cultural) differences.
"I get along well with Federer, I've known him for many years. It's a very different culture, very cold. We don't have a lot of things in common but on the court we have many good conversations."
Though even after all those years on the Tour together, some mysteries still remain.
"Federer's physique is incredible. You never see him with so much as a cold. He doesn't have a very muscular body, wheras Nadal is an animal, his muscles totally defined, it's something in his genes. Federer on the other hand is skinny, doesn't mean anything, he has those little muscles, it's astonishing."
Speaking about the toll tennis has taken on his body, David reveals something that perhaps explains his preference for wearing flip-flops - not only in casual surroundings.
"Tennis players often suffer from problems with their joints, which end up getting destroyed by the effort of what we are doing. Until recently, Guga (Kuerten) thought about having surgery again because his hip hurt when he was walking. In one of my toes I have osteoarthritis. That's what happens because of the movement on court. It's no big deal but to have that at age 29, that's how the sport leaves its mark on you."
And then there's also David's favourite part of being a tennis pro, the travelling...
For us here in South America, the problem is that the distance we have to travel every year on the Tour is going to wear us out a lot more than an American or a European, who have to travel much less.
Finally, and while maintaining that he "always makes an effort to be the number one", David also makes it clear that anything that happens with him and his career happens and will continue to happen on his own terms, regardless of what other people say, criticising those who tell him to do things differently and that "no one is ever happy or content with minding their own business".
I do what I want to do and I'm going to keep doing that with my career and with my life.
(David's quotes: Infobae, Jornada Online & C5N)
Come Monday, it'll be time for David to get back to business himself, and his goal of making it back inside the Top 10. And also on Monday, he'll take another step in that direction as, if I'm not mistaken, he'll find himself at #19 when the new rankings list comes out. Inside the Top 20 again for the first time since October 2009.

The draw for Santiago will take place on Saturday, at 7pm local (10pm GMT) and I'll post it as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Look ahead at the Golden Swing

Update (26/01)
Here are some quotes from David's latest interview (for Telam). He talks about the Australian Open but there's no mention of any physical problems, apart from not having been able to recover in time. Instead, David seems determined to focus on the positive side of things.
"If I play the way I did against Hewitt then the good results will come."
"I was very pleased, both with my tennis and the physical aspect because I played at a very high level for almost five hours. The match was so exciting that the crowd stayed on at the stadium throughout the match."
"Obviously I would've liked to go deeper - I lost in the second round - but I had very bad luck with the draw because Hewitt is one of the toughest players you can face in the first round."

Nalbandian told Telam that because the match ended so late (at 1.30am local time), he was only able to go to sleep at five in the morning and that was counterproductive for being able to rest well.

"I played the last match of the day and I knew that if it was a long one then that would probably complicate my recovery. Most of all, the match was very stressful and that made it much more difficult for me to relax."
"I have a lot of confidence in my game and proof of that also is the final that I reached at Auckland - which I played ahead of the Australian Open - where I lost to David Ferrer from Spain, who's the number 7 in the world."
And of course, there's now also something else on David's mind...
"As everybody knows, the Davis Cup is my priority and I will be proud to be representing my country again."

No news from David at the moment. Which in this case probably means that he's back home, taking a break. But also preparing for the next stage of the season. So here's a look at what's ahead for David (and for us) in the weeks to come...

Four clay-court tournaments in four weeks, in Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico - the so-called Golden Swing. For the clay-court specialists it's an opportunity to get matches and gain ranking points. For David, it's the chance to return to his "home tournament", the Copa Claro (formerly Copa Telmex) in Buenos Aires - and to prepare for the Davis Cup first-round tie against Romania on clay (March 4-6). His self-professed objective for this part of the season.
These are the three tournaments where - if all goes well - we'll see David in the next four weeks:

Movistar Open, Santiago (January 31 - February 6)

(La Tercera)

You may still know the Chilean ATP event as Viña del Mar, which is where it was held from 2000 to 2009, before returning to its original location, last year. And it was still held at Viña del Mar, back when David played this tournament in 2001/2. - A long time ago. But I bet that David still remembers his second-round exit in 2002... The only time he ever lost a match, getting defaulted.
Apparently, David insulted a linesman who had reported him to the umpire for coaching (source: Clarin). Not the best exit, really - but that as well was a long time ago.
Already last year, the organisers showed an avid interest in getting David to make another appearance at their tournament, offering him a wildcard and waiting until the very last minute for him to make up his mind. He didn't play Santiago in the end (making his comeback at the Copa Telmex instead) but I'm sure that their efforts will have played a role with David's decision to return to Chile for the first time after nearly a decade.

David will be the top seed at Santiago. Also on the entry list: Juan Monaco, Thomaz Bellucci, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Juan Ignacio Chela and Potito Starace.

Copa Claro, Buenos Aires (February 14 - 20)

(Getty Images)

The name is a different one this year (due to a new title sponsor) but apart from that everything is still the same - for now. As this might be the last time that the tournament at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club will be played on clay. Or at least, that's the plan of tournament director (and David's former coach) Martin Jaite, who's determined to turn the Copa Claro into a hardcourt event, in order to attract top players. Whether Jaite will get his way remains to be seen but in any case, hardcourts at the BALTC wouldn't be something entirely new - as they're laid every year in December for the Copa Argentina exhibition.
This year marks David's eighth appearance at his "home event" and apart from a pause between 2004 and 2006, he has played it every year since 2001. Including the one time he managed to lose two singles matches in the course of the same edition - in 2007, when this was one of the ATP's test events for the round-robin mode. And of course, this tournament also was where David made his comeback on the Tour, last season. Over the years, David has reached three quarterfinals at Buenos Aires (including the one last year he couldn't play due to injury), he made the semifinal in 2009 and won the title in 2008, defeating José "Chucho" Acasuso in the final. In other words, it's a good record that David has at this event - not surprisingly.

On the entry list: David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, Stanislas Wawrinka, Albert Montañes and also Alexandr Dolgopolov, who's currently making waves at the Australian Open.

Abierto Mexicano Telcel 500, Acapulco (February 21 - 26)

(Getty Images)

Acapulco is the biggest tournament of the Golden Swing, its grand finale and "crowning jewel" as the ATP website puts it. But David's very own history with this event is a rather mixed one. His first two appearances (2003/4) ended with early-round losses. In 2008, however, having won the title at Buenos Aires the previous week, David managed to extend his winning streak to a total of nine matches, marching through the rounds at Acapulco without losing a set - until losing two of them in the final against Nicolas Almagro.
But ever since that final, David has had little luck, playing Acapulco. Or rather - trying to play it.
In 2009, he had contracted a viral infection at Buenos Aires, played his first-round match at Acapulco with a fever and lost. Last year, it was the muscular tear he picked up at the Copa Telmex that kept him from playing altogether. In short - this is the biggest one of the Golden Swing tournaments. But whether David will have any chance of doing well at Acapulco, that will depend on the state he's in when he gets there. And I hope he gets there, this time.

On the entry list: David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Gael Monfils, Nicolas Almagro and Stanislas Wawrinka.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"I was empty" - David's Australian Open Retirement

(John Donegan/AP Photo)

When David retired yesterday during his second-round match at the Australian Open, it was obvious that he was in no condition to continue the match. And that during the hour he spent on court, he had gone from what could have still passed for very sluggish start to no longer being able to play.
Taking a medical timeout after the second set, David told the trainer that he was feeling dizzy, couldn't really see and react to the ball coming towards him as quickly as he wanted to and that tossing the ball up to serve, the court around him would start to spin. The trainer called one of the tournament doctors, David repeated his problems, adding that moving to the ball during rallies, he didn't feel sure his legs would continue to carry him.
After the timeout, David gave it another try and went back on court before finally retiring two and half games later. Having to accept that it was indeed impossible for him to go on. A sensible decision and certainly the right one to make but the question was - what was wrong with David? Was it fatigue or were there also physical problems of a different sort?
Here's what David told the press, afterwards.
I ran out of energy, feeling weak and dizzy. I don't have anything specific. I don't feel good. I talked about it with the doctor and I felt very tired. I tried to recover during those two days after the match against Hewitt but it wasn't enough. I felt weak and a little dizzy when serving.
I was empty.

The match against Hewitt was exceptional. With a lot of pressure and therefore costing a lot of engery. It's a general kind of fatigue that I'm suffering from. It has nothing to do with the hip injury that I had. I didn't feel any pain.
These or similar things David said to the various journalists of the various news sites and agencies. And while the wording may differ slightly, the message is always the same. He didn't suffer from any fever or infection. Instead, he felt completely drained and dizzy because he wasn't able to recover from the extreme exertion that the match against Hewitt had meant for him, physically as well as mentally. A level of exhaustion that simply could not be recovered in time for the match. Which explains why David felt "empty" on court, as well as his notion of not being in complete control of his own body.
In short, this retirement was the price David ended up having to pay for his battle epic victory over Lleyton Hewitt.

Meanwhile, Roger Federer has commented on this, showing understanding for David's "tremendous effort" to beat Hewitt and the consequences a match like this can have (thanks, Noubar via Lucy).
He never had enough time to rest and adapt to everything.
Obviously, the intensity you get from Lleyton and the crowd, and the pressure, all of that put together can lead to a result like this.
An important point. Because it was not only the sheer length that made the match against Hewitt so special - and eventually too much for David to recover from. Therefore I don't think that what happened should be seen as a sign that David is generally unable to play and then recover from five-set matches. I think that this was a very special match - with unfortunate consequences.
One more thing. I might be wrong but I think that this has only been David's third retirement during an ATP match in his career. An amazing number, given the many physical problems he has had over the years.
Still, in the past there were matches where I wished he would've retired. Where he also was clearly not able to compete but he stayed on court anyway, until the bitter end. You can call that heroic. I call it stupid and potentially dangerous. So for my part, I was relieved that he went for the more sensible option this time. And while I hope of course that something like this is not going to happen again (or at least not anytime soon), I also hope that if it does - David will do the sensible thing again.
(Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Australian Open R2 - David vs Richard Berankis

(John Donegan/AP Photo)

Update II

He may not be an old man but David must've felt like one today. After just under an hour on court and having won only a single game, David retired early on in the third set, at 6-1, 6-0, 2-0 for Berankis.
During a medical timeout David took between sets two and three, he told the trainer that he was feeling dizzy and not fully recovered from the Hewitt match. After retiring, he also mentioned that he couldn't move properly. We'll see what he'll say about it in the interviews...

The transcript of David's post-match press conference you'll find here.

That's all I have time for, today. A complete report (including interviews etc) tomorrow...

(Getty Images, montage by VD)

David's match has been moved to Court 2.

6.35pm local - the WTA match is over and David's match now up next...
5.46pm local - first set is over. Hopefully just one more to go...
4.48pm local - the third match (WTA) on Court 6 has just started.
After this one - David vs Berankis.

Talking after the Hewitt match yesterday, David felt obliged to mention that he's not an old man. Compared to his opponent in this match, however, David definitely is a veteran on the Tour. Richard Berankis is a twenty-year-old newcomer from Lithuania, playing his 22nd match at ATP level. For David, if I'm counting correctly, it'll be #499.

Berankis managed to break into the Top 100 for the first time last November and is currently ranked #95. This season, he made it through qualies at Brisbane, where he won a round against Arnaud Clement before losing to Florian Mayer. At Sydney, he didn't reach the main draw (lost in qualies to Igor Andreev).

Having never seen Berankis play before, I took a brief look at his first-round match, which he won fairly easily against Australian wildcard Marinko Matosevic. Berankis (who's only 5'9"/1.75m) moves and covers the court very well, he's very quick on his feet. His groundstrokes look solid and he does possess some firepower.
What Berankis also possesses is some experience with playing on Court 6, as that was also where his first-round match took place. Whereas for David, it's from the biggest possible stage (and court) now over to one of the outside courts. Not exactly the setting he likes.

Going into this match, the big question is of course how fit David will be and how well he has been able to recover from those nearly five hours he spent on court against Hewitt. And whether the excitement and the confidence this victory will have given him can outweigh the toll that this match must have taken on him, both physically and mentally. He'll try to play aggressively and he'll try to keep the rallies short. And, as the ATP website likes to call it, he'll draw on his experience. Not as an old man - but as a veteran on the Tour.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

AO R1: The Battle Epic - David Overcomes Hewitt

(Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)
"Tremendous. Like a Spielberg movie!"
That is, in five words, David's summary of his 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1), 9-7 victory over Lleyton Hewitt. After four hours and 48 minutes. After having served for the match (and getting broken) in the fifth set. After having saved two match points in truly spectacular fashion. - And even that is still just a part of the drama and all the twists and turns that this match had. The exact kind of five-set Grand Slam battle epic that David used to famous for. A match from the good old days, so to speak. It's been a while since David has played and won one of those. And to win it against Lleyton Hewitt, playing in front of his home crowd... well, that makes it even better.

In the beginning though, it didn't necessarily look like this match was an epic in the making. David caught a shaky and strangely subdued start, and he made far too many unforced errors (mostly with his forehand) to really find his range or rhythm. That would change later on. But what would become a sort of leitmotif in this match was already noticeable: David saving most of the break points he faced (and he faced a lot of them). Stepping up his game in those moments - something that would turn out to be crucial. At 2-2, however, David did get broken. He still hadn't really found his way into the match, still made errors left and right and appeared to have no real plan of how to trouble Hewitt, his groundstrokes lacking depth and penetration. Serving to save the set David got broken again, allowing Hewitt to take the first 6-3.

At the start of the second, I wrote in my notes, 'things can only get better now'. - And they did. With a bit more fire and no longer as subdued as in the first set, David now began to fight his way into this match. He still made a lot of errors but among those errors there were now more and more good points, with his groundstrokes (especially the backhand) growing more stable and dangerous for Hewitt. At 1-1, David had his very first break point and converted it promptly. And that one break turned out to be enough. David served out the set to love, to take it 6-4. The momentum seemed to have switched.

And even more so, when David began the third set with another break and a 2-0 lead. What followed then... I'm not sure David could explain it, himself. From one moment to the next, the David from the first set was back. Tentative somehow and unable to put Hewitt under any real pressure. Or to keep his forehand inside the court. David went on to lose five games in a row. He saved 2 set points, serving to stay in it at 5-2. But eventually, he couldn't keep Hewitt from taking the third set 6-3.

Now the momentum seemed to be firmly on Hewitt's side. David lost his serve in the first game of the fourth set. And when he found himself trailing 1-3, and down 0-40 on his serve, the match was on a knife's edge. David saved all three break points with courageous play. A "key moment" as he called it afterwards. And the turning point in this set. For now it was David who went on a tear and won the following four games, playing with the same controlled aggression like in the second set. At 5-3, David served for the set - but couldn't close it out. Eventually, the fourth set went to a tiebreak. I remember noticing how calm and focused David seemed in that moment. Relying perhaps on what's still a fairly new strength of his - tiebreaks. And what followed was a near perfect tiebreak from David, who was completely dominant throughout (the only point Hewitt got came from a forehand error by David) and took it 7-6(1).

Then came the fifth set. Both were visibly tired now and David was also struggling with cramps...
"I was cramping the whole set. It was much more difficult for me to serve than to return, cramping and all. I was a little bit better than him and he was cramping too."
Which didn't keep him from securing an early break (for 2-1), even more important because Hewitt served first in the decider. I have to say that I was really impressed by how David, tired, exhausted and cramping as he was, still tried to construct points, still tried to wait for the right moment to attack, whether by coming to the net or going down the lines. David carried his break through the set, the only set, by the way, where he didn't face break points all the time, until at 5-4, he served for the match. And then the nerves came and the unforced errors and the break points. - And the re-break. 5-5. That was the moment I thought David would 'implode', that this was a blow he might not recover from. But David played on, fought on and had 2 break points in the next game. Hewitt held and David now had to serve to stay in the match. After David had initially been up 40-15, Hewitt had 2 match points. David saved both. With some incredibly gutsy play at the net.
"The first match point I saved with some ridiculous touch and the second was also decided at the net."
Eventually, at 7-7 - it was Lleyton Hewitt, who imploded and lost his serve to love, granting David a second chance to serve for the match. And this time, he took it. Converting his first match point in style - with a clean lob winner.

A couple of numbers. David made 83 unforced errors.
He saved 23 of the 30 (!) break points that he faced.
While converting 6 out of 12, himself.

A look at David's post-match press conference here.
Match highlights here (watch them, while you can, AO clips usually get taken down again soon.)

Krystle was there at the Rod Laver Arena for the match. Her report you can find here.

So - what did David have to say about Hewitt after this match?
"He is a true fighter. It was very tough for both of us."
And does David know anything about his next opponent, the promising youngster Richard (formerly Ricardas) Berankis?
"No idea. But I'm not an old man. I'm worn out right now but that's not the same."
And now?
"Now I want to rest."
Let's hope he can get some good rest. After all, he really earned it.

David's quotes: Telam, La Razon & official site Twitter
(photos to the right: EFE, Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Australian Open R1 - David vs Lleyton Hewitt

(William West/Getty Images)

Update II
It was epic (though civil) and even by David's lofty standards it was an incredible drama... But in the end, after four hours and 48 minutes on court, David converted his first match point to beat Lleyton Hewitt 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1), 9-7.

And I'm probably not the only one who needs a break now.

David's post-match interview transcript you'll find here. Quotes also in this article.
Photos now on the Photo Page.

First set of the match now available via David on Screen.
(I'll continue uploading.)

More soon...

(Getty Images/AP Photo; montage by VD)

8.09pm local - and here they come...

7.57pm local - the first match of the night session of over. David up next, though it will still take a moment, after this extremely short match.
7.33pm local - after only 20 minutes on court, Clijsters takes the first set against Safina in the first match of the night session.

It's a special match that fate, in the form of Ivan Lendl, has presented David (now ranked #21) with for the first round of this year's Australian Open. A match-up that has granted David a night session slot in the Rod Laver Arena. And one that has its own history, both on court and off of it.

They have met five times so far and it was Hewitt (currently ranked #54), who won their first three encounters. Among them the big one, of course - the Wimbledon final 2002. As well as their only previous meeting at the Australian Open (quarterfinal 2005), a five-set epic that included the "rubbing-shoulders incident" (57 seconds into this clip). David got his revenge at the Davis Cup quarterfinal that year. And the last time they met, at Sydney 2009, David beat Hewitt on his way to the title.

With his defensive and counter-punching abilities, as well as his stamina, Hewitt can cause David a lot of trouble. Apart from that, and with two return specialists going toe to toe, their matches usually involve a lot of breaks (even David's 7-6, 7-5 victory at Sydney had seven of them). Therefore, holding serve, especially in the important moments, will be crucial. With Hewitt having shown himself to be in good form at Kooyong last week, this is bound to be a very tough match. And not only that - it will be a tough fight.

The crowd will be on Hewitt's side and "against" David. But while David usually remains unimpressed by these things, there's something else he might find a lot more difficult to ignore - Hewitt's antics on court. David has taken offense at Hewitt's habit of celebrating his opponent's errors before. Calling him "not a gentleman" because of it and adding that "nobody is friends" with Hewitt. - David's most famous remarks in this context but still some of his nicer ones, let's put it this way. Hewitt on the other hand has called David "not the cleanest guy" and still insists that it was David who bumped into him during the changeover, and not the other way around (see clip above). - A special history both on and off the court.
We'll see what David will have to say about Hewitt after this match...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Auckland Final - David vs David Ferrer

David's week at Auckland has ended with a defeat against "the other David" Ferrer, who prevailed 6-3, 6-2.

Photos now on the Photo Page and match on David on Screen.

(Getty Images, montage VD)
"Always when we play together it's a good match."
As well as a very tough and arduous one, likely to go the distance.
This will be the twelfth "Battle of the Davids" and although 'our' David won their last three encounters, Ferrer still has the edge in terms of the match record (where he leads 6-5). If you leave out their matches on clay, however, the match record stands at 5-2 in David's favour.

Going into this match, David will of course know exactly what to expect and that keeping up the aggressive play that has worked for him so well this week might be more difficult this time, because of Ferrer's great defense.
Still, whatever the outcome of the final will be, David can be proud of his performance this week.
"After the surgery there was a lot of doubt. But now, at 29, I feel I'm still in shape, still playing well, still making finals." (David's quotes: TVNZ)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Auckland SF - David vs Nicolas Almagro

Update II
David has defeated Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 6-2 for a place in the Auckland final. There, he will face top seed David Ferrer.

Photos now on the Photo Page.
The match is available now on David on Screen.

The complete draw for the Australian Open you can view here.

(NZ Herald/Getty Images; montage by VD)

David has drawn Lleyton Hewitt for the first round at the Australian Open.
Full draw soon.
I'm very happy about this victory because it allows me to continue my run and to keep gaining confidence. My game went from the lowest to the highest level and of course that makes you more and more confident with every match. My feeling is that I'm playing very well. (Telam)
- And that's not only David's impression, I daresay.
His opponent in todays's semifinal is the second seed Nicolas Almagro (currently ranked #14). They've met four times so far, with the match record tied at 2-2. Three of these four matches took place on clay (two of which Almagro won), while David beat the Spaniard in their only encounter so far that took place off of the clay - indoors at Paris 2007. And David also prevailed the last time they met, at Barcelona 2009 (one of David's last matches before surgery).

Almagro can cause David trouble, both with his serve and his backhand. And their previous matches have shown that he's not necessarily an easy match-up for David. But in his current form and with his confidence growing with every match, David will surely also be confident, going into this one.

(A couple of words concerning Vamos David: I've fallen ill but I'll try to keep up coverage, now that Krystle can no longer help out.)

Auckland QF - David Outrallies Isner

(Phil Walter/Getty Images AsiaPac)

The last time David and John Isner met on a tennis court, David had major problems returning Isner's serve, to the point of not only losing points but not even being close to getting the ball back into the court. Today was a very different sight, closer to what would have been expected for this kind of match-up.

The score was 6-4 7-6(3) but it was much more dominant than that. David was the far superior player from the baseline, on return and also more successful in the serving department. It was quite a wooden performance from Isner, who constantly hit groundstrokes into the net, and often into the middle of the court, forgetting that it'd be wise to be more aggressive given his poor movement.

At the start of the match, David was true to his word from yesterday's interview and made it clear he would try to move Isner around the court, again using his trademark accurate groundstrokes. It was with this kind of tennis that he manufactured his first break of serve at 2-1. Just when it started to look like David would dominate the match, he followed up the break with a sloppy service game that had him down a break point, and playing a long game, but he saved it with some good tennis. There were a couple of crucial points in this match where David was down break points, but whenever he was, he raised his game up another level.

After that, the rest of the set was business as usual. Both players held serve more comfortably, and David started to win points in slightly less spectacular fashion, realizing that Isner wasn't much of a threat from the baseline. But also because it didn't take much for Isner to make an error.

At the start of the second set, Isner received treatment on his arm injury. Given that in his previous interviews, Isner already commented on his poor play in the tournament, I didn't really know how he was affected. Or whether he was just playing poorly.

The second set continued in the same fashion as the late part of the first set, with both players holding serve the whole way. David continued to be the better player from the baseline, but by now Isner had picked up his serve getting more cheap points. Though it was really the only way he could win points most of the time, or either through sloppy errors from David. There were many close games on Isner's serve, but Isner often brought out a big serve at the right moments. David went down a set point in 5-4 in the second set, but he really stepped it up the next three points to come back and win the game.

Again, David continued his trend of playing well in tie-breaks, convincingly taking it 7-3, although it was also a reflection of how David was generally the better player in the match. Some of the highlights in the tie-break included his excellent down-the-line shots. But the tie-break also included some really ugly backhands from Isner dumped in the middle of the net, and appropriately that's how the match finished. It's the second match-up where David has played against a guy with a weak backhand, but in this case Isner's backhand was even worse.

All in all, it was a very solid performance from David, a continuation of yesterday. His groundstrokes were excellent, not that Isner was ever likely to threaten him in this department. It was always more a matter of consistency and concentration.

Sorry if there are any slight inaccuracies in this report. My computer crashed several times, and I missed a couple of games here and there especially in the first set.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Auckland QF - David vs Isner

(Getty Images, montage VD)
"I played great tennis today, much better than my first match. I came into the net quite a lot and that allowed to play short points. I'm playing pretty aggressively, it's obviously not always easy to keep it up, but that's what I'm trying in every match." (Cancha Llena)
That's what David said after his easy victory over Petzschner (by the way, he also said that the wind affected his perfomance against Fognini). In David's quarterfinal match against the third seed and defending champion Johnh Isner, chances are that there are going to be many very short points...
David and Isner have met only once on the Tour so far, and (as mentioned before) that match consisted of merely nine and a half games before Isner retired with an ankle injury at Cincy last year. Back then, David had his problems with Isner's serve, as well as with holding his own.
The latter will of course be a key factor today. As well as the good old waiting game, for the chances you'll get against a serve monster are usually few and and far between. So David will have to try and the take the few opportunities that will present themselves to him.

What might help David is that Isner played a long match in the second round and afterwards was anything but happy with his performance. Whereas David merely spent an hour on court and was very content with his match. So he'll be confident, going in this quarterfinal. And we'll see whether he'll be able reach what would be his first ever semifinal at Auckland.

Auckland R2: David Raises his Game against Petzschner

(Phil Walter/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Yesterday, David struggled in almost every aspect of his game, not only making errors, but some really ugly ones. After yesterday's match, there were low expectations as to what kind of spectacle David's match would turn out to be, so it was easy to appreciate that David played a much cleaner, aesthetically pleasing match today.

In fact, I felt like I was in a very generous mood at the start of the match. Even when David was making errors, at least they were good looking errors, imagining how great that rally would have looked had the final shot gone in. That kind of thinking is usually a result of good point construction. I don’t think I really put myself in the proper frame of my mind to give an accurate explanation of how David played today.

David started perfectly in the match, breaking Petzschner’s serve to love in the first game. Already I could tell that David’s accuracy and shot selection were much improved today, and I like it much better when it looks like he is controlling the points. Not to mention that he is a more dangerous player, with this kind of shot selection. Petzschner plays more of an all-court game, so the rallies were shorter, and David seemed to play the points with a different mindset as well. Playing with the angles more and opening up the court really well, looking to finish it off at the net.

Petzschner’s weakness, his inability to attack on the backhand side gave David plenty of opportunity to attack, to construct points off that side before making Petzschner run to the forehand side. Maybe it was that David’s shots were deadly accurate, but I don’t think Petzschner defended particularly well. Usually David could just hit it side-to-side in two directions, once crosscourt, then down-the-line and that would be good enough to win the point. Maybe it was just that Petzschner’s backhand was a bit too weak.

At first this was a nice fast-paced match with some entertaining all-court rallies, but also relatively one-sided in David’s favour. David really enjoyed having a target, and often won the battle between the net (Petzschner) and baseline (David), setting up the point with a low ball to Petzschner, then threading the needle with a passing shot. It was like that for about half a set, until it started to turn into a more erratic affair with shorter rallies. Both players missed a fair amount of returns, then many of the all-court rallies started to disappear, along with the long rallies. I think it was basically lacking intensity from both sides, and the quality suffered as a result.

The second set was a different story from 1-1 onwards. David started to play a much cleaner game, controlling points from the baseline, and also returning well, if he managed to get the serve back. It was very one-sided, with not much resistance from Petzschner, making far too many errors on the defense. The points were mostly played from the baseline now, with David getting Petzschner out of position finding excellent angles and down-the-line shots.

Petzschner’s forehand was not at all a weapon today, and he mostly relied on his serve. He can be a flashy player, but I didn’t see much of it today. I liked that David played an all-court game in this match. I think when he does, it improves his accuracy and shot selection from the baseline as well. Though I’m sure it’s much less daunting when you can approach to a shot like Petzschner’s backhand. The end result was 6-3 6-2 to David, and now he faces the winner of Robin Haase or John Isner.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Auckland R2 - David vs Philipp Petzschner

Update II
What a difference a day makes... It took David merely 62 minutes to secure an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over Philipp Petzschner. In the quarterfinal, he will now meet either Robin Haase or John Isner.

More soon...

(Reuters, montage by VD)

3.47pm local - David's match about to start now...

3.30pm local Ferrer finally wins. And now it's time for David's match.
2.49 pm local - Ferrer wins the second in a tiebreaker. Third set now...
1.35pm local - Kamke takes the first set.
1.02pm local - Ferrer vs Kamke is now under way.
12.41pm local - Almagro wins the first match of the day on Centre Court. Next up Ferrer vs Kamke. And then it's David's turn.

There are players, who keep up with rankings, records and statistics, and who know the basic facts about each and every player's game in the Top 200. David is not one of them. And often enough, he won't remember previous encounters he's had with his opponents. In this particular case, there is nothing to remember - David has never faced Philipp Petzschner before. But if David also hasn't really heard anything about the German and his game so far, then he could be in for a surprise.

Petzschner, currently ranked #59, is an excellent doubles player (he won the Wimbledon doubles with Melzer last year) with a slightly unorthodox, all-court game that includes drop-shots, lots of backhand slice, attacks at the net and what can be a strong serve - on a good day. (While on a bad day, he can be very erratic.) Therefore, depending on Petzschner's form, this match could be test for David's returns. Apart from that it'll be interesting to see how David will deal with Petzschner's game. - And whether he has managed to shake off the rust a little by now.

Auckland R1: A Win is a Win - David beats Fognini

(Phil Walter/Getty Images AsiaPac)

It wasn't pretty but it was enough to win. - That would be the short version of summing up David's 7-6(3), 6-4 victory over Fabio Fognini. Obviously a bit rusty (and with lots of unforced errors and shanks, especially on the forehand side), David still managed to take it up a notch in the important moments, both in the first-set tiebreak and getting the decisive break in the second set. And apart from a horrible game in the first set, he was fairly solid on serve.
David's next opponent is now Philipp Petzschner, currently ranked #59. It will be their first encounter.

The beginning of the match saw David off to what looked to be a flying start, breaking Fognini in the very first game of the match and then holding serve for a 2-0 lead. In the following game, however, David failed to convert a total of four break points (having already needed four to get the break in the first game), allowing Fognini to scrape through and losing his momentum. But not only that, what followed was David's worst service game of the entire match, resulting in the re-break he handed over to Fognini with four unforced errors in a row. After that they remained on serve without further break points or deuce battles until at 5-4 Fognini, and with David serving to stay in the set, the Italian had a set point. David chose this moment to play serve and volley and got a bit lucky when Fognini got to his drop-shot but sent his reply landed wide. In the eventual tiebreak, David raced to a 6-3 lead, before converting his first set point with another bit of serve an volley. 7-6(3)

In the second set and up 2-1, David held and once again failed to convert a record-breaking total of five break points. But this time, he didn't follow it up with a horrible service game of his own, and apart from that one game in the first set, David was overall solid on serve in this match. And when facing the only break point in the second set (at 3-3), it was a good serve that he saved it with. After a convincing hold from David to go up 5-4, Fognini served to stay in the match and quickly went down 15-40, granting David two match points. The first he squandered with a forehand error, but on the second, a backhand from Fognini landed wide. 6-4

About halfway through the first set, the unforced errors count was displayed for the first time. At that moment, David had already committed 15 of those. My guess would've been that at least ten of them had from his forehand side because once more it was the forehand David made the most (and the worst) of his errors with. I wasn't able to catch the final stats but my impression was that he cleaned up his game a little during the second set, when, with the first set under his belt, he seemed more comfortable and confident, going for more with his shots.
It wasn't pretty and not as easy as expected. And perhaps, David was a bit more rusty than expected. But he got the job done in straights and whether he'll be able to build on that we'll see in his upcoming match against Petzschner.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Auckland R1 - David's first Match of 2011

Update III
David has won his first match of the season, defeating Fabio Fognini 7-6(3), 6-4.

Photos now on the Photo Page.
The match is available on David on Screen.

More soon...

(Getty Images, montage by VD)

Update II
3.51pm local - David and Fognini warming up now. Two minutes to go.

3.34pm local - Mannarino beats Pico 6-4, 6-3. And David is now next up on Centre Court.
2.54pm local - Mannarino wins the first set.
2.41pm local - Pico's match is not on the ATP scoreboard - but he is playing. He just broke for 4-3 lead in the first set.
1.57pm local - It's over... At last. After almost three hours. Now there's one more match to go, Pico vs Adrian Mannarino. And then David.
1.10pm local - In the first match on Centre Court, Bellucci served for it at 6-4, 5-4. Now we're in the third set... So it's going to get later than planned.

Today (or tomorrow, depending on your time zone), David will walk onto the Centre Court at the ASB Tennis Centre in Auckland to play his first match of the season. The way it was already supposed to be last year but then didn't happen due to his last-minute injury in training. But although things will hopefully be very different this time, this match does feel a bit like "deja vu, all over again" (as commentator Doug Adler would put it).
Because just like last year, David will play his first match of the season against an Italian clay specialist. But while Potito Starace seemed like a fairly tough draw for David's comeback match at the Copa Telmex last year, the prospect of facing Fabio Fognini (ranked #57 as of this week; David remains at #27) on hardcourt surely isn't something David will have lost any sleep over.

As mentioned before, it'll be their second encounter, with David having won the only match between these two so far. And though I am (as you'll know) always extremely careful about making any predictions, I don't really see how Fognini could trouble David on hardcourt.

So - not too long to go now until David's first match of this new season.
Let's hope it'll be a good one.

Here's a first look at David in Auckland, on the practice court...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Auckland Draw

The draw for Auckland has been pulled and David's first opponent has been decided (as well, of course, as the potential ones in the following rounds). - David will begin the 2011 season with a match against Fabio Fognini. It'll be their second meeting on the Tour, David won the first one which took place on clay (Copa Telmex 2008).

David has been drawn into the bottom (i.e. Almagro's) half, which looks like this:

[6] David Nalbandian (ARG) vs Fabio Fognini (ITA)
Thiemo De Bakker (NED) vs Philipp Petzschner (GER)
Robin Haase (NED) vs Pablo Cuevas (URU)
BYE vs [3] John Isner (USA)

[5] Juan Monaco (ARG) vs QUALIFIER
[WC] Arnaud Clement (FRA) vs Xavier Malisse (BEL)
Victor Hanescu (ROM) vs Kevin Anderson (RSA)
BYE vs [2 WC] Nicolas Almagro (ESP)

Full draw here (thanks, Noubar).

The order of play for Monday is out now - and David's name is not on it. So he'll play his first-round match on Tuesday (Auckland time).

For Fognini, David's first-round opponent (currently ranked #55), Auckland will already be the second tournament in this still very young season. Though he won't be too tired from playing Doha, as he only got a single match there (he lost in the first round to Nikolay Davydenko). And one match is also the exact amount of history that exists between David and Fabio Fognini. The only time they met so far was in 2008, in the second round of the Copa Telmex. I remember following that match on the scoreboard. It took ages and it was quite a battle (on Fognini's strongest surface, clay) but in the end, David won 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3. And this time, on hardcourt, David certainly goes into the match as the firm favourite.
Who gets to be David's opponent in the second round will be decided in the match between Thiemo De Bakker and Philipp Petzschner - who have never met on the Tour before. And as David has never played against either of the two before, his second-round match will definitely be a premiere.
In the quarterfinal, however, David could very well meet a player he has faced before - even if it was only for nine and a half games... John Isner is not only the third seed at Auckland this year, he's also the defending champion. David's only match against Isner so far ended at 5-4 in the first set when the American had to retire last year at Cincy. Back then, David had a lot of problems with Isner's serve (both first and second) and got lucky with the match ending prematurely. So in case David gets to play Isner in the quarterfinal - this could be quite a test.
Before a hypothetical semifinal against Nicolas Almagro or perhaps Juan Monaco might await David. - But that's all still far away.

First of all - David's first match of the season, against Fabio Fognini.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A couple of Words from David

- Taken from the latest press release on the official site, which confirms that David flew to Auckland yesterday. And which also confirms that David sounds confident and optimistic about the upcoming tournaments.
I feel very good and I have great expectations for this [the Australian] swing. I've completed a tough pre-season and I feel very good, both physically and in terms of my tennis, which is why I hope I'll be able to do well during this first stage of the season.
Meanwhile, trying to make it back inside the Top 10 seems to have become the new main objective.
I hope I'll be able to fight for a place among the Top 10 again.

As I've mentioned in the comments, I'll post the draw tomorrow morning.

And, for the record, the last remaining wildcard for Auckland has been given to Arnaud Clement (last year's runner-up at the ASB Tennis Centre).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Auckland Preview

(Getty Images)

Update II
David will be on his way to New Zealand tomorrow (i.e. Thursday):
David Nalbandian has completed his pre-season in Unquillo (training in double shifts) and tomorrow he'll be in Buenos Aires to take the first flight to Auckland.

Last year, the ASB Tennis Centre in Auckland almost became the site of David's comeback on the ATP Tour. In the end, it merely became the place where David picked up the abdominal tear that kept him from playing both this event and the Australian Open.
This year, however, all is ready for a new start. At a newly refurbished venue and on new courts, now matching the colour of those at Melbourne Park (though not matching in terms of the surface; Rebound Ace at Auckland, Plexicushion at the Australian Open).

Overall, it'll be David's third time of playing the Heineken Open in Auckland. Back in 2002 he reached the quarterfinal, while in 2003 he lost in the first round to the man, standing next to him here - Mariano Zabaleta.

The Field
Auckland has 28-player field, with eight seeds (the top four get a bye in the first round). David was originally bound to be the fifth seed but due to Nicolas Almagro's addition to the field by means of a wildcard, David will now be seeded sixth. The other seeded players are: David Ferrer (top seed), John Isner, Albert Montañes, Juan Monaco, Thomaz Bellucci and Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Among the unseeded players there's a name that will have caught David's eye - Victor Hanescu, Romania's #1 Davis Cup player. And I guess it's safe to say that David wouldn't mind getting a match against him...

The Draw & The Time Difference
...But whether there's any chance of that happening, that will of course depend on the draw. It will take place on Saturday, 3pm local. That's Saturday, 2am GMT, Friday 9pm EST/11pm Argentina.
In other words, Auckland times are: +13 hours GMT, +18 hours EST and +16 hours Argentina.
Due to the time difference, organising an up-to-date coverage here on Vamos David will be quite an adventure... I'll see what I can do.

One more thing - because of David's delayed comeback last year, he won't have any ranking points to defend up until the Copa Claro (formerly Telmex) in Buenos Aires.

Play at the Heineken Open in Auckland starts on Monday, January 10th.

And now for a completely different kind of preview - the new Yonex collection. Lleyton Hewitt is wearing it at the Hopman Cup this week: light version & dark version. So this (or something similar) is what we can expect David to be wearing for the upcoming tournaments.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year & Happy Birthday David!

A new year, a new season to start soon - and David, now 29 years old... Cumpleaños feliz!
In the past, making more detailed good wishes didn't really work out so well, so once again,
I'll just say - good luck for the new season, David. May it be a great one for you. And for us. :)

Apart from that, this is also traditionally the day of the year that Vamos David gets a new look.
So here it is - Vamos David 2011. I hope you like it.
This time however, there are also some changes that go beyond the layout. David's schedule, the photos and David on Screen have all found a new home on new extra pages (you might need to update your bookmarks). While the pics from the two old photo pages have been moved to the revamped Photo Archives.
Maybe this all sounds a bit chaotic... Just have a look around and see for yourself.

So, ready for another season with the King of Drama?
David applauds your courage and determination...

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

2011 - here we come...