Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Kingdom for a Serve... David's Loss to Murray

I feel like I'm improving but it's still a long way to go. I served very badly today and at this level you have to pay for that. (Source.)
The price that David ended up paying in yesterday's match was losing his serve six times in a row (from 3-1 in the first set on until the bitter end). Out of the altogether five games that David managed to get, three came from breaking Murray's serve, only two from holding his own. In short, David's serve was nothing short of a catastrophe. And in the end, that overshadowed the more positive aspects of this match, most of all David's much improved play during the rallies.

Now, David has never been a great or even just solid server. Something that won't change at this stage of his career. And I guess that every David fan knows that kind of sinking feeling whenever it's time for a particularly important service game that he cannot afford to lose, whether it's to close out a set, the match, or serving to stay in it. Because with David, there's always a chance that he will lose it.
Yesterday, however, the problems went far beyond David's usual serve blips and inconsistencies. Especially in the second set, his serve was shockingly harmless. During that set David achieved the rare "feat" of only winning 25% of his points on serve - on first serve as well as on second.
A weakness exemplified by a certain pattern we got to see a number of times in the second set: Murray returning David's serve easily and with enough depth - and David either shanking his next shot (usually the forehand) or making an error.
In his previous matches, David also didn't serve particularly well. But the pattern that could be observed was a different one. He started poorly and then got better as the match went on, both in terms of his serve and his game in general. Which, I think, was a sign of his lack of match practice. Yesterday, however, and after not serving but at least playing well in the first set, David basically fell apart in the second. No longer able to keep up with Murray during the rallies and with his serve disintegrating completely. Whether it was the heat, maybe also frustration or something else - I'd love to be able to tell you. But I as well can only speculate since except for the quote above, David is once more keeping a complete silence.

The match seems to have left its mark. David's confident "I'm improving every day" (from his last interview) has turned into the more vague "I feel like I'm improving". And while a few days ago he talked about "hoping to find his level quickly" and said that he still has time to improve until the Davis Cup semifinal against Serbia there's now only one tournament left until Belgrade - the US Open. A lottery for David, as he won't be seeded this time. In other words, this is a very difficult moment to try and work on what yesterday looked like a basic problem. And even more so since David no longer has a coach.

What the next weeks and most of all the US Open will bring, well, I think it's impossible to even try and predict right now. Too much will depend on David's luck with the draw. And what the rest of David's season will look like, whether he's going to make adjustments to his schedule (also because of his ranking) - we'll have to wait and see.

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)


  1. Yes, David doesn't have any match practice left before the US Open now, and with that serve, he could have difficulty with anyone in the draw. Well I guess I don't really have much hope for their Davis Cup chances anyway.

  2. Very good write-up, Julia. It pretty much addresses everything we, as David's fans, have on our minds at the moment.

    In the handshake photo, Andy's expression looks to me like a mixture of sympathy and bafflement.

  3. Yeah, good job on the writing. :) I've noticed you've gone away from the structure of writing chronologically (something which I used to do quite a lot of too, since it's easiest).

  4. Thanks, but it's just some thoughts about the match. Nothing more. And I've not gone away from writing choronologically, only sometimes.

  5. I was at the match. Murray said in the on-court interview right afterward that Nalbandian is "an incredibly talented player" and "very difficult to play against".

  6. Murray's generous comment was justified, I thought, by several occasions when David did look the better player. When he managed to hit the court without hitting the net, and strung a few of those together, his ability to compose rallies showed and he made Murray look pedestrian. But Murray did what he does: executed and kept sending the ball back, and that was quite enough.

    The question that has been forming in my mind is "Does David even merit a place in the Davis Cup team?" Chela or Monaco could probably have done better against Murray, and even Del Bonis shows a lot of promise.

    However, Argentina might as well play David in the team. He rises to the occasion, it would be a shocking blow to leave him out, and last but not least it probably won't make any difference. With Del Potro and David both playing at their best, they would have had a fair chance against Serbia; with both of them clearly out of form, it's a foregone conclusion.

  7. If you watch Nalbandian-Schüttler from AO 2003 on youtube you will see that David had a totally different service motion when he was younger, lower toss and didn't put his legs together, kind of an Agassi serve. Maybe it's time for David to completely change his service technique

  8. I think that would mean taking a huge risk directly before the USO and DC. And I'm not sure it's possible. I'm not even sure it's possible to make smaller adjustments without a coach, whether it makes sense to try and figure things out by yourself.

    As for David playing DC, Anonymous, there's currently a lot of talk about that in Argentina. Though no one is really questioning that he should be on the team. Because of his DC reputation but also because Chela and Pico are not exactly showing great form at the moment, either. While the team's doubles specialist, Edu Schwank, has been out with wrist problems since the QF tie (hopefully, he'll be able to return at the USO).
    But especially in a difficult situation like this, Tito Vázquez will want to rely on David and his experience with playing tough away ties. Apart from that, people take DC very seriously in Argentina and David is a national DC hero. Not calling him would not just be an affront, it would cause a scandal.
    So the current discussions are mostly about how David could be of the most use for the team. Whether by playing singles, or maybe the doubles and a singles, perhaps the fifth rubber if it comes down to that. It's not really his participation that I think is in doubt right now. But whether the Argentine team can possibly stand any kind of chance against Serbia.
    Still, first of all - the USO. And the question how David will do there, playing best-of-five.

  9. Nalby and Delpo can definitely beat Troicki or Tipsarevic,if Djokovic plays,the doubles will be the key match.

  10. David saying that it's "not impossible" to beat Serbia says it all, I think. Usually, ties are always either "tough" or "very tough"...

  11. bfb, Yes, that's what I was trying to point out in an earlier post. Also evident in that early (02?) US Open meeting with Federer.
    Because he didn't step up with his left foot, he seemed to time his push up better. (There is some variability on this now, which is causing considerable inconsistency. Plus he just doesn't seem able to get up enough.) He was actually quite explosive then. And that's probably why the toss didn't have to be as high. Overall, a better motion and a more effective serve. The Agassi comparison is apt.
    But what explains the change in the first place?
    Perhaps the former serve was putting a bit more pressure on the hip?

  12. No, I don't think it was the hip as he changed it quite a long time ago.

  13. You know what David said when asked about possible differences between the David who won Madrid and Paris and the player he is now? - That back in 2007 he had not yet had any surgeries.
    It's still great to watch him play and if I didn't enjoy it as much as I still do I wouldn't keep this blog. But at the same time, he won't get by on the Tour just by virtue of his talent and his beautiful groundstrokes. Nobody's saying that he has lost any of that. But the problem is how well his body still allows him to play.
    So over the last years, the balance has shifted from "can David make major noise at the USO" to "can he last five sets" and "if he has to go to the distance will he be injured again, afterwards".
    This is not a recent development or a current slump. This is the latest chapter of a story that's been going on for over three years now.

    It was nice of Andy Murray to say these things. And apart from the last match, they've both always spoken highly of each other. But does that mean that David will find his form again, stay injury-free from now on and play for another three or four years? I really wish it would.

  14. well said Julia.
    Injury-Pause-comeback this has been the story of david for the past 3 years or so.
    it's just every time he is about to have his rhythm back, another injury appears out of nowhere. So if he just can stay injury free, am sure things will turn out to be much better.

  15. I'm not giving up on David. Right now, I'm worried about him and career. That's not the same. As a matter of fact, I'd say it's the exact opposite.
    And as the worried fan that I am, I write about the things I see and the way I interpret them - in context. Of his previous matches, the season and the injuries and the comebacks he's had, also in the years before. It's the bigger picture what these concerns are about, not just that David lost a match to Andy Murray.
    It's about this comeback looking very differently from his previous ones. It's about his ranking now being too low for a direct entrance at many tournaments and the question whether David will travel to Asia to play qualies. It's about how many matches he'll get until the next injury (I've said it before, on average it's less than ten) and how often he'll get a chance to show the tennis he's capable of. It's about wondering whether he'll be able to serve better again the next time. And it's about knowing just how much depends on his luck with the USO draw.
    For me, that's enough reason to be worried. Of course you can see all of that very differently. We all have our own ways of being fans.
    Still, I think you're underestimating the toll that his surgeries and injuries have taken on him. Something that he acknowledges himself.
    Maybe you think I enjoy playing the harbinger of doom here. But I can assure you, that's not the case. I very much hope that David will surprise us all at the USO and that he'll have a great rest of this season. But right now I am worried and I'll write on my blog what I think.

  16. Later developments make it even more bitter that David served so badly against Murray - who is now in the final. David broke him 3 times, which should be more than enough to win a best-of-3-sets match, and is better than anyone else has done against Murray.

  17. fish broke him 3 times in the semi

  18. If he served well it could go much better for him and break more times.

  19. So Nole is injured...
    Hopefully it's not serious, since he'll surely want to be fit for the US Open. But even if he is, it might have a bearing on whether or not he plays the DC semi so soon afterwards.

  20. In tournaments where David came deep he mostly began weak but after 1,2 or 3 rounds he was already in good form.
    It didn't happen so often since his hip surgery but before.

  21. I've removed the comments left by "Anonymous" here because a closer inspection of the latest and then also the earlier ones revealed that they were left by the one person who's no longer allowed to post comments on VD.
    Congratulations Chris, you had me fooled there.

  22. I figured it out on the last comment, because he used the word "folks", lol.

  23. I noticed it was him right away,he didnt say anything bad tho this time.

  24. He didn't but my decision stands.

    Apart from that it takes some nerve to act like David's great defender now when not too long ago he was making fun of people for hoping that David would be playing on clay and grass before the DC QF.

  25. I thought it was the "infamous" Anonymous, too, only this time he was making a lot more sense.

  26. After having completely reversed his opinion for some reason...