Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back to the Present (and the very near Future)


Update (31/10)
It's Monday, time to have a look at the rankings. David remains at #57 for the moment before next week, his quarterfinal points from Basel last year will come off.

Meanwhile, Tito Vázquez and Caio Rivera visited the stadium in Sevilla. As you can see, it's still in its original state, without the roof and without the court - but not for much longer.

After delivering the bad news about next year, I'm now going to focus on the present again. And on what's still ahead this year, 34 days from now to be precise - the Davis Cup final in Sevilla.
At the moment, David is back home in Unquillo, taking a break and recovering from his hamstring strain. If all goes well he'll begin with his training on clay as early as next week (source).
In the meantime, here's a first look at what's ahead, a little over a month from now...

In a recent interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, David was asked whether he felt daunted by the prospect of facing the Spanish team, supported by a crowd of 25.000.
By now, the official numbers are out and according to those, David and the others will be playing in front of 22.121 people at Sevilla's Estadio Olimpico, also known as La Cartuja, the "Carthusian monastery". Whether that's a fitting name, well, that decision I'm going to leave to you.

Who exactly is going to be nominated for the final - theoretically, both team captains still have a few days left until they have to officially announce their team nominations. And often enough, those are kept secret until the very last minute. In this case, however, both captains have already let it be known that they're planning to nominate everyone who has made an appearance for their team in Davis Cup this season, all those players who have made this final possible. Which means that both Tito Vázquez and Spain's captain Albert Costa are going to nominate the maximum number of five players for their respective teams:

David, Juan Martin Del Potro, Juan Monaco, Juan Ignacio Chela and Eduardo Schwank

Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco and Marcel Granollers

Speaking of Tito Vázquez, in a recent interview he stressed the importance of winning the first rubber in the final, said that Juan Martin Del Potro isn't ready to play on all three days and acknowledged David's role as a "pillar of strength" for the team, having played on all three days on numerous occasions in the past - but things are "a lot more complicated now". Talking about his preparations for the final in that interview, Vázquez not only gave his take on David's decision to skip Valencia, his reply also offers a clue as to why it was part of David's schedule (instead of Basel) in the first place.
Q: It's a little over a month until the final. That can be a lot of time or little of it, depending on how you look at it. Do you already have an idea how you're going to form the team?

Tito Vázquez: Since I took over as captain there have always been injury problems with the players. And I've heard that Nalbandian won't play in Valencia next week, that he's saving himself for playing Davis Cup. On the one hand that's exceptional for us. But on the other hand it's worrying that he's injured so much. So I'm not going to make any projections. My assistant Caio Rivera and me, we're travelling to Sevilla on Friday [i.e. yesterday] to see the logistics of the place, the construction of the court, the hotel, the distance to the venue and to plan the tie. After that we're going to Valencia to meet up with the players and make plans for the [Davis] Cup.
Juan Martin Del Potro, Juan Monaco and Juan Ignacio Chela are all going to be at Valencia - and David would've been there as well, if it wasn't for his injury. In other words, it was planned as a team meeting. When David is going to join the others now remains to be seen.

Finally, and on a non-Davis Cup related note, here's the updated list of players for this year's Copa Argentina (December 15-18). David will be joined by Juan Monaco, Marcos Baghdatis, Gael Monfils and James Blake.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fue Buena: 2012 David's Last Season

You may remember the Argentine Fue Buena blog I've often used as a source of info. Over the years, I've come to appreciate it as one of the most reliable Argentine sources - if not the most reliable one. And the same goes for the journalist behind that blog, Jorge Viale.
The same Jorge Viale who, before the US Open, wrote a detailed analysis of David's situation and the impact of his injuries on his career, including his ability to train properly.

Last night, in a new post for Fue Buena, he wrote about David's latest injury and the tests in Barcelona, which showed that the strain in his left hamstring isn't too bad as such but, according to Dr. Ruiz-Cotorro, "it's in a dangerous place and must be treated like a tear". Adding that David will get some rest at home in Unquillo now before beginning with his preparations on clay.

But the big news, the "surreptitious bomb" from David that he was going to drop, he reserved for the last paragraph:
Nalbandian knows that no matter how difficult the final will be he still has two chances of fulfilling his great dream. One is Sevilla in December, the other will begin in Germany in 2012, the year which will be his last one as a professional tennis player.
Coming from another site, from another source I'd probably take news like this with a grain of salt. Also because David's own estimate of how much longer he'll play on the Tour has always varied, depending on how well he was doing at the time he was asked. But coming from Viale and Fue Buena, and also coming at the end of this season, David's first since 2005 without a title and one during which he was only able to play a total of 34 matches... Maybe it's time to realise that 2012 will indeed be the last we'll get to see of David.

Monday, October 24, 2011

David out of Valencia, Return at the Davis Cup Final

Finally, there is news. But it's not good news...
Here's the article, fresh in from the Argentine news agency Telam:
David Nalbandian has decided not to play any further tournaments this year in order to recover from a strained left hamstring and to prepare for the Davis Cup final in the best possible way.

This is what his spokesman Bernardo Ballero told Telam.

After a series of tests in Barcelona with his personal doctor Angel Ruiz-Cotorro it was found that David Nalbandian has suffered a strain in his left hamstring.

Therefore the player and his team have decided that it's better for him not to contest the Valencia Open 500 next week.

Nalbandian suffered the injury competing at the If Stockholm Open, playing against the Croat Ivan Dodig and because of it he had to withdraw from that tournament and also from the St. Petersburg Open this week.

Nalbandian is scheduled to return to Argentina, in order to continue his rehabilitation and also to train on clay for playing the Davis Cup final in Sevilla, on December 2-4.

"I'm very sad about what has happened to me. I was playing at a high level but as a precaution we have decided not to take any risks to be in top condition for the Davis Cup," David said.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Injury Update

Update (24/10)
David arrived in Barcelona already on Saturday (source) but so far - no news.

Meanwhile, a look at the rankings: David is ranked #57 this week, he has moved up one position but his number of ranking points has remained the same - 850. A consequence of his status as a commitment player, which allows only his best two results at 250 events to be counted. Therefore, David's 45 quarterfinal points from Stockholm have now replaced his 45 quarterfinal points from Buenos Aires, leaving his overall number of ranking points unchanged.
- For the moment. In the coming weeks, he'll drop his points from Basel and the Paris Masters last year, 135 in total.

David's quarterfinal match against James Blake was only minutes away yesterday when the bad news came. News of another muscular injury, initially described as a strained left hamstring, forcing David to pull out of Stockholm and also St. Petersburg. Situations like that usually lead to a certain amount of chaos, with lots of often enough conflicting tweets and articles. And only after the dust has settled a bit you get to see a clearer picture. So now, on the day after, here's a summary of what is known about David's injury, withdrawal and further plans - at this point in time.
I'll start with a chronology of events as they unfurled at Stockholm yesterday.

At 5.30pm local, an hour before the match, David took to the training court to warm up. But after 20 minutes on court he left again, accompanied by the tournament doctor. Another 20 minutes later, at 6.10pm, the news first came of David's withdrawal.
- As witnessed by Denise, VamosDavider on site (thanks again, also for the photos). She was also able to confirm that the Clarin article, which I quoted only briefly yesterday, contains the information exactly as it was provided by Claudio Galasso and Diego Rodriguez, David's physio and kinesiologist.

Namely that David suffered a "light muscular problem" in his left hamstring during the match against Ivan Dodig on Thursday (when exactly during that match isn't clear). It appeared again the following morning, i.e. yesterday. The muscular problem itself was described by David's team as "nothing serious". But with the Davis Cup final only a little more than a month away, the decision was made for David to consult Dr. Angel Ruiz-Cotorro in Barcelona, "to conduct tests and to rule out any bigger complications".

Or in the words of the latest press release on David's official site, "David will travel to Barcelona this weekend to see his personal doctor Angel Ruiz-Cotorro and to consider the next steps together with him". It also includes a first statement from David:
I'm very sad about having to deal with this new injury and about having to withdraw from the tournament in Stockholm. I've been playing at a high level, with two good wins. But thinking about what's ahead, my team and I, we believe that the best thing is to stop and not take risks. I hope that I'll be able to recover quickly and that I can continue with my preparation in order to get in the best shape for the Davis Cup final.
The press release adds that "for now", David's plan is to make an appearance at Valencia.
Whether that's going to be possible and exactly what this new injury is - I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stockholm QF - David vs James Blake

(Getty Images; montage by VD)

David has withdrawn from his match against James Blake due to an injury (thanks, Denise).
This has also been confirmed via the tournament site's Twitter.
Edit: A strained left hamstring, suffered during yesterday's match against Dodig is the reason for David's withdrawal.
Edit: David has also pulled out of St. Petersburg. Instead he'll travel to Barcelona to see his doctor Angel Ruiz-Cotorro (source: Clarin).

The last time David and James Blake met, in the second round at Washington in August, it was the meeting of two former champions at that particular event. Today, two and a half months later, the same can be said about their quarterfinal encounter at Stockholm: David won the title in 2008, Blake in 2005 and 2006.

James Blake, ranked #69 this week, took a bit of a break after the US Open (where he went out in the second round against David Ferrer) and he has played only one tournament since then, the Sacramento Challenger, where he lost in the final to Ivo Karlovic. Still, he has had two pretty straightforward wins this week, against Olivier Rochus and also against Juan Martin Del Potro, preventing the duel of the Davis Cup teammates.

David has played two matches against James Blake so far (Shanghai Masters Cup 2006 and Washington this year) and he lost both rather comfortably, never getting close to taking as much as a set. With Blake successfully attacking David's second serve and more often than not dictating the rallies with his forehand. Therefore, David will have to serve well again today to keep Blake from breaking him as regularly as he did in their previous matches. And he'll also have to be ready for more speed and firepower during the rallies.

In other news: As usual, David will finish his season at the Copa Argentina exhibition at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tenis Club (December 15-18). The two other players confirmed for the event so far are Feliciano Lopez and - James Blake.

Stockholm R2 - David Dispatches Dodig

(Highlights by Noubar - thanks.)

Posting impressive numbers, also in terms of his serve, David cruised to what's been his easiest victory in a while now, dispatching Ivan Dodig 6-1, 6-1 in merely 58 minutes. In today's quarterfinal match against James Blake, however, David will face an opponent who has presented himself in fine form too. And one he hasn't managed to beat before.

(photo by Denise Yoko Berndt)
Initially, it didn't necessarily look like this match would be as one-sided as it turned out to be. David seemed to be catching another slow start and faced a break point in the very first game of the match. But it would remain the only break point against him. And after breaking Dodig in the second game (helped by some errors from the Croat), David began to pick up steam. In this context, commentators like to talk about the best shots of a player as indicators of his form. But another indicator are those shots that don't work often enough, in David's case the running forehand - and it did work yesterday. In general, David moved a lot better than he did on Tuesday, seemed much more agile and had therefore enough time to set up his shots.
At 3-0, David broke serve again, after Dodig had already been up 40-0, showing his determination not to give away any ground in this match. Dodig was able to avoid the bagel, holding serve for 5-1 but then David comfortably closed out the match, converting his first set point with an ace.

At the start of the second set, Dodig managed to hold serve again, getting his second and last game of the match. After that, and if that's at all possible, David even more in control of the match than during the first set, using this position for a display of his best shots and favourite combinations. Watching it, you could almost get the impression that he was trying out how perfectly he could play those combinations like for example the backhand approach down the line, followed up by some of the great volleys and drop-shots (and lobs) he played in this match. David was cruising and occasionally showboating a little, getting "aahs" and "oohs" from the crowd. He broke Dodig three further times during this set, including a last time when Dodig served to save the match, converting his first match point with a return winner.

(Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

It's not often that you get to see David as dominant and as comfortable on serve as he was in this match. Making a respectable 65% of first serves and dropping only 3 points on his first serve in the whole match (while winning 62% of his second serves). The Stockholm scoreboard showed 33 winners for David and only 6 unforced errors - which does seem a bit too low, as far as I'm concerned. Still, it was a very clean match from David, the complete opposite of his performance against Malisse. A highly enjoyable match for those who got to see it - but also for David, himself, against an opponent who was unable to put him under any kind of pressure.
Whether David will be able to build on this match and his performance - we'll find out tonight.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stockholm R2 - David vs Ivan Dodig

After all the drama on Tuesday against Malisse, David put in a clinical performance today and it took him less than an hour to brush aside seventh seed Ivan Dodig 6-1, 6-1.
In tomorrow's quarterfinal, he'll now get to face James Blake (who defeated Juan Martin Del Potro). It'll be their third encounter and perhaps David's chance to get his first win over Blake.

Recording available now via David on Screen, the rest tomorrow...

Two weeks ago to the day, David played his second-round match at Tokyo against Ivan Dodig.
Today he'll play his second-round match at Stockholm - and again his opponent will be Ivan Dodig.
As it's only been two weeks since they met at Tokyo, where David prevailed 7-6(2), 6-2, I'm going to do things a little differently this time. I'll leave you with Andvari's (thanks!) highlights clip of their match at Tokyo and a brief look at David's preparations for the second edition tonight...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stockholm R2 - David Saves Match Points to Overcome Malisse

(Highlights by Andvari - thanks)

It’s been a few years since David last appeared in Stockholm. Back then, I remember David showing a masterclass of fine ballstriking on a fast indoor court. Awesome reflexes taking the ball early on the baseline, and showing a great ability to change directions with ease. Returning to the scene of glory, one would have thought that David might have come back with good memories, but instead he played a match much unlike that run in 2008. David needed to save two match points, before overcoming Xavier Malisse 4-6 7-6(8) 7-6(3).

Statistically David had about double the unforced errors that Malisse did for most of the match, only finally improving towards the end. Regardless of whether the ball was going in or not, he didn’t seem to have much control over the timing of his shots or where he was hitting the ball. He often caught the ball a fraction late, and he was rarely able to raise his level in the first two sets.

He handed over his first service game of the match with a double fault, and three errors. Malisse started the match poorly himself, handing back the break at 2-1. There was speculation that the standard of tennis, was because of all the distracting background noise going on in the crowd. I’m not sure whether that was the case. But Malisse ended up breaking David’s serve from 40-0 up, with a half-hearted dropshot return. Then out of nowhere, he hit a few flashy winners.

(Photo taken by Denise Yoko Berndt - thanks)

Considering that David was struggling with returning Malisse’s serve quite frequently, this was enough for Malisse to hold onto the set. There was one game in the match where Malisse served 4 straight aces to win a service game! Though David’s average baseline play also contributed to the difficulty which he faced this match. The one bright area in David’s game today were his volleys, in particular the backhand volleys. I guess they probably made up most of the highlight reel material.

The longer the match went on, the more he became frustrated, signaling at himself and talking to himself, perhaps giving mental pointers to himself on what he could do better, except never really being able to pull it off. It became a running dialogue. Hopefully, in the next round, he is able to make more of an adjustment to the speed of the court.

David briefly went up a break in the second set to go up 4-2, before playing horribly and handing it straight back in the next service game. It’s a bit hard to describe the majority of this match, because there were a lot of uninspiring rallies, where each point looked relatively similar to the eye.

David had a set point at 6-5 in the second set. It seemed like the perfect opportunity, considering that Malisse was losing his temper, but he put it to good use on serve with a service winner and two aces to take the set into a tie-break. In the tie-break, Malisse got up to a 5-2 lead (and somewhere before that, David threw his racquet for the first time in ages). David hadn’t strung many points together, but match points down, David struck the ball cleanly and refused to give Malisse a cheap point. It sure was good timing for David to come up with his best tennis in the match, on those match points down.

He then went on to play a few excellent games to get up an early break. Suddenly his forehand was much more aggressive and working better. Still, after a brief hot streak, the match went back to more of both players slapping away at the ball again, also showing some signs of tiredness. David couldn’t close it out serving for the match. In fact, he played quite poorly. But fortunately, just like the second set, he had a few good points in him in the tie-break and that was the crucial difference.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stockholm R1 - David vs Xavier Malisse

After two hours and 41 minutes, after saving two match points in the second-set tiebreak and getting broken when serving for the match in the third David eventually managed to overcome Xavier Malisse 4-6, 7-6(8), 7-6(3).
In the second round on Thursday, he'll now face Ivan Dodig - again.

For some reason there seem to be no agency pics of this match (or Stockholm in general). Therefore I've now put up a few screencaps I took towards the end of the match. You'll find them on the Photo Page.
Recording now available via David on Screen.

(Reuters/Getty Images; montage by VD)
These days, David mostly gets to face players who are younger than him and haven't spent as many years on the Tour as he has by now. Today's match, however, is one of the exceptions. Xavier Malisse, 31 years old, turned pro the year David won his US Open juniors title, all the way back in 1998.

Malisse, ranked #51 as of this week, has had his share of injury troubles and pauses in the past but this year he has been able to play a regular season, with the final he reached at Chennai and a semifinal at s' Hertogenbosch as his best results. At the same time, he also won two titles this year, at Los Angeles and Indian Wells - but in doubles (his current doubles ranking: #30).
Malisse has been playing indoors since the US Open, with appearances in Davis Cup (lost to Haider-Maurer), at Metz (where he retired in his quarterfinal match) and at his home tournament, the Challenger in Mons, Belgium. There, he went out in the second round against Alejandro Falla. Still, Malisse is known for being unpredictable with his form - and for his tantrums on court.

Today's match is going to be the sixth encounter between David and Xavier Malisse. It's also the first time they meet since Miami 2008, where David lost to Malisse after having won their four previous matches. Malisse likes to play aggressively, especially with his forehand, and he is, not surprisingly for a good doubles player, also one for attacking at the net. A type of player David usually does well against. And hopefully, he will do so again today.
One more thing - I won't be able to be here for the match so Krystle will be in charge of VD.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stockholm Draw

Update (17/10)
Despite having gained 45 points at Shanghai, David loses one place and is now ranked #58.
As his name is not on the schedule of play for today, he'll play his first match at Stockholm on Tuesday.

Initially, David was supposed to get a wildcard for this tournament. But in the end, due to withdrawals from other players (Söderling and Mayer) and the clearing of the Special Exempts, he has made it into the main draw without needing a wildcard.

So here it is, David's draw for his first event of this year's indoor swing.
He finds himself in the bottom, i.e. Juan Martin Del Potro's half, which looks like this:

[8] Tommy Robredo (ESP) vs [Q] Tobias Kamke (GER)
[WC] Michael Ryderstedt (SWE) vs [Q] Sebastian Rieschick (GER)
Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) vs [Q] Marius Copil (ROU)
BYE vs [3] Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)

[7] Ivan Dodig (CRO) vs Adrian Mannarino (FRA)
David Nalbandian (ARG) vs Xavier Malisse (BEL)
James Blake (USA) vs  Olivier Rochus (BEL)
BYE vs [2] Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG)

A look at the complete draw you can take here.

Xavier Malisse, 31 years old by now and ranked #50, was one of the players David beat on his way to the Wimbledon final 2002 (the last one, actually; they met in the semifinal). That victory was the first of four consecutive wins David had over Malisse, including matches at three different Slams and on grass, hardcourt and clay. The last time they met however, at Miami 2008, Malisse managed to beat David for the first time.
If David can return to his winning ways against Malisse, in the second round it'll be one of two very different, possible scenarios for him. And facing either someone he has only just played against and defeated, seventh seed Ivan Dodig, or someone he has never met before, Adrian Mannarino.
And then, in a hypothetical quarterfinal, we could get the all-Argentine duel, David against Juan Martin Del Potro. It would be their fifth encounter (match record: 3-1 for David) and the fifth one indoors.
But first of all, the "battle of the veterans" - David against Xavier Malisse.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Look ahead at the Indoor Swing

Or rather, a look ahead at the selection of indoor events that David will play this year. Notable for including tournaments he has never played before (and seemed highly unlikely to play). But notable also for those events that are missing. First of all Basel, for many long years the number one constant with David's schedule-making. But also the Paris Masters... In a recent interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, David talked, of course, mostly about the upcoming Davis Cup final (Edit: you can now read it here). But he also talked about his plans for the coming weeks and the indoor swing. And the tournaments he mentioned were the three, listed below. No mention of the Paris Masters.
So, it's a very different indoor swing for David and for us this year. Here's what's ahead.

If Stockholm Open 250 (October 17-23)
(tournament website)
Stockholm is the only event of the three that David has played before. In 2008, his first appearance at Stockholm ended with him, winning the title. David's second visit was a success as well, the Davis Cup "rescue mission" he went on last year and which saw him clinching the tie for Argentina in the fifth rubber. Back then, the court at the Kungliga Tennishallen was still green and the lighting a lot less dramatic than what the organisers have come up with in the meantime. So it's a place of good memories for David but one that looks (and also plays) differently from what he knows.
Edit: Robin Söderling is officially out. David is in the main draw without needing a wildcard.
Also on the entry list: Stanislas Wawrinka and David's teammates Juan Martin Del Potro and Juan Ignacio Chela. Edit: Florian Mayer has withdrawn.
The draw for Stockholm will be pulled on Saturday, at 3pm local (CET).

St. Petersburg Open 250 (October 24-30)
All that David has seen of Russia so far has been Moscow. He played the Kremlin Cup twice, back in the very early days of his career (2001/2) and he also played altogether three Davis Cup away ties in Moscow (the last one was last year's quarterfinal). But St. Petersburg is a completely new territory for David (and also for myself, as I have to admit). Out of the three events that he's going to play, this one has the easiest field by some margin. Therefore, it could be David's chance to do something about the fact that he hasn't managed to win a title so far this year. And perhaps, that's also why he chose it.
On the entry list: Gilles Simon, Janko Tipsarevic, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Marin Cilic, Marcel Granollers

Valencia Open 500 (October 31- November 6)
(Getty Images)
Out of all tournaments on the ATP Tour this is one I never thought I'd get to see David play. For the simple reason that it takes place during the same week as Basel. And David absolutely always played Basel - until now. This time, David chose Valencia instead and playing at what's perhaps the most adventurous of all tournament venues, the Ágora, a "multifunctional covered space" of 80 metres height. But what made David replace Basel with Valencia? Two reasons, probably. One is that he wants to get as many matches as possible and the field at Valencia isn't as strong as it is at Basel. The other reason could very well be that the surface at Valencia is famous for being extremely slow and therefore closer to the conditions of playing on clay.
On the entry list: David Ferrer, Robin Söderling, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shanghai R2 - Mayer outfoxes David

(Highlights by Andvari - thanks)

(Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
Usually when David plays his matches, he likes to have the upper hand. He likes controlling rallies, and clearly knowing in his mind how he needs to construct his points. It’s rare to see David completely lost on court like this, and he struggled to find the rhythm that he usually likes in a 6-3 6-4 loss to Florian Mayer, one of the trickiest players on tour.

It didn’t help serving 2 double faults in the first game, and that allowed Mayer off to get to a good start. David made his intentions clear, he was going to play aggressively, and so was Mayer. Who would get the upper hand? Mayer was the more committed of the two, to play the kind of tennis that would get his opponent off-balance, and he threw everything into trying to make this happen. His shot selections were adventurous. He was all over the court, jumping, lunging, taking the ball early on the return, sneaking into the net and occasionally throwing in a bit of serve and volley. His angles particularly off the forehand were a big weapon and he was continually able to ruin David's attempts at controlling rallies, with good defense, then with the ability to change that back into offense. He was on fire in the first set up until 5-2 in the first set. Most of the time, David didn’t even have the chance to make the error, so he didn’t have the chance to find any rhythm either. In the first set, David only won 23% of points on second serve.

It was a lot of pressure for David’s second serve to withstand, and also a lot of pressure in the baseline rallies. Normally David has a better idea of what to expect, and he can use his anticipation as a better weapon than what he did today. Without the anticipation, and without being able to anticipate the changes of pace, David’s deteriorating movement made it quite difficult for him to be competitive in these rallies, and also put him on the defensive more often than he’d like. Mayer, on the other hand, read David’s play quite well, especially at the net winning 16 out of 17 points, sometimes off poor dropshots or approach shots where he realistically could have been passed.

The entire match, it was a continuing battle for David to try to control the points, and to keep them in control. Often he’d move the ball around from side to side a few times, but Mayer’s lunging backhand and forehand slices always got him back into the points, making it impossible for David to hit winners against him. Sometimes he’d try hard to find his way into the net, but the match was not played on his terms.

In the first set up to 5-2, Mayer was playing a perfectly aggressive match with hardly any errors. Then he played a poor game at 5-2 serving for the set, and David made some good returns off second serves to break back to 5-3.

David’s horrible service game following that to lose the set 6-3, kind of sums up the rest of the match. He wasn’t really playing well enough to make the most of Mayer’s level going down after 5-2 in the first set. Mayer didn’t play badly in the second set. But he was more generous with his unforced errors, more up and down in terms of performance, and not as energetic in general. The second set in general was relatively even until it reached the closing stages. It featured fewer rallies, was more patchy, and more reliant on the outcome of the serve.

David had his opportunities at 4-4 in the second set. Mayer made a few cheap errors, and gave David the opportunity to finish off a short ball that only just made it over the net. It was an amateur shot, but David missed it long. After not converting that crucial game, David lost his serve fairly comfortably and poorly. Apart from that 4-4 game, another area that David could have improved in was in the returning department, where he missed plenty of returns just like in the Gulbis match. He also didn’t hit many backhand winners, but I think that partly had something to do with how he seemed to be moving from side-to-side all the time, rather than being camped on the backhand side.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shanghai R2 - David vs Florian Mayer

UpdateII (11/10)
Yesterday, David got away with not playing too well - but not today. After only 74 minutes, Florian Mayer easily prevailed 6-3, 6-4.
David's next tournament will now be Stockholm, starting next Monday.
Edit: And according to his official site he'll be on his way to Sweden right away.

More soon...

(Reuters/dapd; montage by VD)

Update (11/10)
 4.20pm local - the first match on Stadium court has just finished. Up next: David and Mayer.

Tennis writers, bloggers and especially the fans on the big forums like to label players, putting them into different categories. Whether it's ball-bashers, grinders, counter-punchers or serve monsters. But there are players who defy such categorisations. One of them is Florian Mayer.

The fifteenth seed at this event and currently #23 in the ranking, Mayer is having the best season of his career. Winning his first ever title at Bucharest last month and making the final at Munich, earlier this year. But Mayer's game doesn't just work on clay: The two semis and five quarterfinals he reached this season also include tournaments on hardcourt and grass.

David and Mayer have met twice before and David won both matches very easily. But almost six years have gone by since the last one (at Basel 2005). And in case David doesn't remember these matches, or Mayer, he could be in for a surprise. Florian Mayer likes to make use of the whole dimensions of the court and to this end he employs a wide range of shots, whether angled, with slice (also off the forehand wing), drop-shots and lobs or a bit of serve and volley. But he can also create pace on his groundstrokes and he likes to go up the lines.
What the rallies in this match will look like is going to depend on whether David can manage to impose his game on Mayer, whether he can keep him busy and on the back foot. If not then David will find himself covering a lot of ground, trying to chase down Mayer's shots, including the drop-shots he loves to play.
Upon special request, this match will be covered by Krystle, VD's resident Florian Mayer expert.

Shanghai R1: The Importance of Beating Ernests

(Highlights by Andvari - thanks.)

This match surely won't be making it into any highlights collection of David's 2011 season...
But although he didn't play very well for the most part of it, he found a way of winning it in straights, securing a 7-5, 6-4 victory after an hour and 33 minutes - and a combined total of 69 unforced errors and 12 double faults from both players.
Next up for David is now someone with a very different kind of game, fifteenth seed Florian Mayer. David won both of their two previous encounters but it's been six years since their last match.

David's TTV post-match interview you can watch here.
And it's official, David will accept a wildcard for St. Petersburg (October 24-30).

(Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
After a slow start from both, at 2-2 Gulbis gifted David the first break with some unforced errors and a couple of double faults, the second of which came on break point. Up 4-3, however, David returned the favour with an equally poor service game, also including a double fault on break point. Gulbis held for 5-4 and then had two set points in the following game. But David was able to rely on his first serve at this moment and he saved both. At 5-5 Gulbis dropped his serve again, once more double-faulting on break point before David easily closed out the set, converting his first set point with an ace.

In the second set as well, David broke serve at 2-2. And he played better in this set, making less unforced errors and serving no further double faults. He didn't manage to get the double break, despite Gulbis' still rather erratic performance. But David carried the break through the set without facing any further break points and eventually served out the match to love.

Unlike in his previous match against Murray, David chose to play mostly from the baseline. An approach that worked quite well, since he was practically guarenteed an error from Gulbis, as long as he kept the ball inside the court for a few shots. Those altogether 43 unforced errors from Gulbis (and his 9 double faults, two of them to surrender his serve) helped making things a lot easier for David. But at the same time he managed to clean up his game in the second set (8 unforced errors, compared to 18 in the first set) and he also served much better during it.
And occasionally, he displayed some great technique on the ball...

(Alexander F. Yuan/AP Photo)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shanghai R1 - David vs Ernests Gulbis

Update (10/10)
It wasn't pretty but the important thing is that he got the win in the end. After an hour and 33 minutes, David prevailed 7-5, 6-4 over Ernests Gulbis. In the second round, his opponent will be fifteenth seed Florian Mayer.

Recording available via David on Screen. And a couple of pics from the match on the Photo Page.

More soon...

(Getty Images; montage by VD)

It's been five years since David's last visit to Shanghai and the Qi Zhong stadium. But he has obviously not been forgotten in Shanghai. Not only has he received a wildcard (the only one that didn't go to a Chinese player), he also gets to play his first match, his 'welcome back match' if you will on Stadium court, where he achieved the biggest triumph of his career. And he gets to play it against someone who's just as unpredictable as David himself can be, sometimes.

Ernests Gulbis is a talented player - but also a highly inconsistent one. His best tennis this year he displayed at Los Angeles where he won the title, beating Mardy Fish in the final. Since then he hasn't managed to go deep anywhere and at his last two events (Bangkok and Tokyo) he went out in the first round. But then again, with Gulbis you never really know.

What is known, however, is that David won their only enounter so far, back in 2008 at Indian Wells. Though it was a very tight affair, with David prevailing in a third-set tiebreak. Since then they haven't played an official match but they've trained together. And Gulbis will surely get some tips on how to play against David from his coach Guillermo Cañas. For David on the other hand, this actually shouldn't be a bad match up as he usually does well against big hitters. Gulbis also has a big serve but that too tends to be inconsistent. And hopefully David will be able to make use of those opportunities he'll get.

Edit (10/10)
(AP Photo)

Here's David's terracotta warrior on display along with the others of former Shanghai Masters Cup and Masters champions, outside of Qi Zhong stadium.

Can you guess who is supposed to be who?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Shanghai Draw

Here's David's draw for next week's Masters event in Shanghai. He has been drawn into the top half, top quarter, which (after Djokovic's withdrawal) belongs to Rafael Nadal:

[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs BYE
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs Somdev Devvarman (IND)
Ernests Gulbis (LAT) vs [WC] David Nalbandian (ARG)
Fabio Fognini (ITA) vs [15] Florian Mayer (GER)
[9] Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) vs Feliciano Lopez (ESP)
Alex Bogomolov Jr. (USA) vs Marcel Granollers (ESP)
[WC] Ze Zhang (CHN) Radek Stepanek (CZE)
BYE vs [6] Tomas Berdych (CZE)

Complete draw here.

In his first Masters (and not Masters Cup) match at Shanghai, David gets to face Ernests Gulbis, ranked #49 this week. It'll be the second encounter between these two but it's been a while since the first one. That took place at Indian Wells 2008, a tightly contested match, which David eventually won in a third-set tiebreak. They haven't played since then but they've trained together and David will know what to expect. But the same goes for Gulbis, whose coach Guillermo Cañas knows a thing or two about David and his game, having been his Davis Cup teammate, doubles partner and also having beaten him, before.
In the second round David could then meet either Fabio Fognini (#39) or fifteenth seed Florian Mayer (#22). He has a 2-0 match record against both of them, though in Mayer's case six years have passed since their last meeting. Whereas Fognini was David's opponent in the first match he played and won this season, at Auckland.
Afterwards in the third round, just like at Tokyo, it could then be time for another big test - against the top seed Rafael Nadal. And regardless of the outcome, I guess David wouldn't mind another chance to play against Nadal ahead of the Davis Cup final in Sevilla (confirmed now by the ITF).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sayonara Tokyo... David Loses to Murray


It was David's second match against Andy Murray within two months and the second defeat. But unlike the one at Cincy, today's defeat was not a bad one. David played a good match - but Murray was simply better.

After holding serve easily at the beginning of the match, David surrendered his serve in the course of the first long service game, after having had game points and eventually on two double faults in a row (for 3-2 Murray). And as Murray proved unassailable on serve in the first set he had no difficulties taking it 6-4.

After staying on serve in the second set until 3-3 David lost his serve again, this time due to a series of unforced errors. He fought back in the following game and finally (and practically out of nowhere) managed to get the re-break, levelling the score at 4-4. But only to lose his serve again, granting Murray the chance to serve for the match. Murray had (and wasted) a match point and then surrendered his serve again, 5-5. But once again David was unable to gain the lead, making too many unforced errors and eventually losing his serve for the third time in a row. And this time, up 6-5, Murray served out the match to love.

David's strategy in this match grew clear early on. From the start he tried to keep the points short, trying to avoid getting caught up in long baseline rallies. He kept attacking at the net, whether behind approach shots (preferably aimed at Murray's forehand) or whenever he managed to push Murray far enough behind the baseline during the rally. A strategy that involved playing aggressively and taking a lot of risks, including making a lot of unforced errors (and he did) and getting lobbed or passed. But still more promising than to engage in endless, tiring baseline exchanges against a physically stronger opponent. For the most part, David executed this strategy very well today and he stayed true to it until the end.
But the problem was once again the serve, David's - but also Murray's. In the first set, David won a total of three points on Murray's serve. And by the time he finally managed to challenge Murray on serve he was also no longer able to hold his own, with especially his second serve too vulnerable against someone who returns as well as Murray. Still, all in all a good (and entertaining) match from David against a difficult opponent.

So it's sayonara Tokyo. And 90 ranking points for David, which will see him move up from #64 to around #57 next week. Next up for him now is the Shanghai Masters, for which he'll apparently receive a wildcard. The draw will be available tomorrow.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tokyo QF - David vs Andy Murray

(AP Photo)

UpdateII (07/10)
It was a lot closer than the last time around but in the end, it wasn't enough. After an hour and 39 minutes, and some very entertaining tennis, it was Andy Murray, who prevailed 6-4, 7-5.

David will now head on to Shanghai for next week's Masters event.

Recording now available via David on Screen.

More soon...

(AP Photo/Reuters; montage by VD)

Update (07/10)
7pm local - Ferrer has just defeated Stepanek. Next up now: David and Andy Murray.

After an easy first round and a slightly more difficult second round, in the quarterfinal the time has now come for the big test - in form of Andy Murray (#4), the second seed at this event, who arrived in  Tokyo straight after winning the title at Bangkok last week. And whose self-professed goal (as he has already qualified for the World Tour Final) now is to take the #3 spot from Roger Federer.

During the interview after his match against Dodig, David was asked about Murray, you've probably seen it. And the first thing that came to his mind was that they've met many times before and know each other's games. Actually, this will only be their sixth encounter since the first one back in 2005 (David won the first two, Murray the last three). But I guess the memory of the last one is still fresh and not just in my mind.

Exactly 50 days have gone by since David's last match against Andy Murray. It took place in the second round at Cincy - and it wasn't pretty. From the baseline David was more than able to keep with Murray and he broke him three times. But since he only managed to hold serve twice in the entire match he ended up getting merely five games. In short, David will get his chances, in the rallies and the return games. But most of all he'll have to serve well - or he'll pay the price again.

Tokyo R2: David Downs Dodig

This match could've ended differently - with a 6-4, 6-1 win for David. In the end, after an hour and 55 minutes, it ended with a 7-6(2), 6-2 win for David over Ivan Dodig. After some extra time in both the first and the second set... In tomorrow's quarterfinal, David's opponent will now be the second seed Andy Murray (who turned the match record around in his favour at Cincy and now leads 3-2).

Once more, David caught a good start and went up an early break (for 2-1). But he surrendered it again immediately afterwards with a sloppy, error-riddled service game. Still, he continued to have his chances on Dodig's serve and managed to break again to go up 4-3. At 5-4, David served for the set but a couple of great points from Dodig (and David's inability to get a first serve in) led to another re-break. The eventual tiebreak however saw David back on track and completely dominant, converting his first set point to take it 7-6(2).

Early on in the second set, there was a bit of drama again but this time of a different kind. After squandering a chance to break in the second game, David started swearing loudly and then took out his frustration on a banner (pic), which earned him a code violation. But after that he found his focus again quickly (which is not always the case), growing more and more dominant especially during his return games. David broke Dodig twice, he was fairly solid on his own serve and didn't face any further break points until at 5-1 he was able to serve for the match. After wasting a match point with a double fault, David lost his serve again - on another double fault. Before finally closing out the match in the following return game, on his altogether fourth match point.

This is the kind of match that can look spectacular in a highlights video - because it had a number of very entertaining rallies. As well as some great points from David, including everything from blistering groundstroke winners to deft touch at the net. What the highlights clip wouldn't show is that this match also saw a lot of unforced errors, and more from David than from Dodig. Still, overall it was a good match that David played today - except for his attempts to close out the first set and then later the match. And even though he got away with it, this time. But also generally speaking, David's serve wasn't exactly impressive today (49% first serves), making this match more difficult for him than it would've needed to be, given how well he did on return and during the rallies. His serve didn't end up costing him today but against Andy Murray tomorrow, it will be a different matter.

TTV's post-match interview with a happy (and sweaty) David you can watch here.

(photos: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tokyo R2 - David vs Ivan Dodig

(Koji Sasahara/AP Photo)

UpdateII (06/10)
He made things more difficult for himself than they would've needed to be, getting broken serving for the first set as well as for the match. But in the end, David secured a 7-6(2), 6-2 victory over Ivan Dodig and a place in tomorrow's quarterfinal. There, his opponent will be second seed Andy Murray.

Some photos from the match now on the Photo Page.

Recording now available via David on Screen.

More soon...

(Getty Images/Reuters; montage by VD)

Update (6/10)
5.16pm local. The third match on Centre Court has just finished. Next up: David and Dodig.

It's still Wednesday, where I'm writing this. But in Tokyo it's already Thursday - the day of David's second round match. Just like in the first round, he's up against a player he has never met before. But this time one who's 29 positions ahead of him in the rankings and who likes to play on hardcourt.

Ivan Dodig used to be the kind of player who mostly plays Challenger events and occasionally manages to make it through qualifying at ATP-level tournaments. Ranked more or less far away from the Top100 - until this year. As of this week, Dodig is ranked #35. After winning his first ever title at Zagreb (plus another final, a semifinal and a quarterfinal). In short, Dodig is playing the best season of his career. The biggest headlines, however, he made two months ago when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the second round at Montréal. But since then it's been early exits for Dodig.

I haven't seen much of Ivan Dodig but I watched most of his match against Nadal. That was Dodig playing at his very best and I'm not sure he will be again in this match. Still, this will be a different kind of test for David than Rosol in the first round. Dodig is a fighter and he defends well. At the same time he's able to pull the trigger on his groundstrokes, especially his backhand, if he gets the chance. During his match against Nadal he also mixed things up by coming to the net. And Dodig has a good serve - and a somewhat unorthodox serve motion. Whether that's going to make it more difficult for David to get a read on his serve and how he's going to deal with Ivan Dodig and his game - the match will give the answers.

Last but not at all least, the good news: There will be streams for this match.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tokyo R1: A Bright Start for David

(Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

It was David's first match in seven years at Tokyo but the Japanese crowd didn't get much of a chance to get used to the sight of him again on the Centre Court at the Ariake Colosseum. - For that it was all over too quickly.
In match that was just as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, David took only 49 minutes to defeat Lukas Rosol 6-1, 6-1.
In the second round on Thursday, he'll now face Ivan Dodig (currently ranked #35). It will be their first encounter.

After holding serve to love, David first broke Rosol in the second game, the only long and hard-fought service game of the entire match. Barely making any first serves initially, David still continued to cruise through his service games. After breaking Rosol again to go up 5-1, David easily closed out the first set on his first set point.

At the start of the second, David immediately broke serve again. Having raced to 4-0 lead, he briefly went down 0-30 in the following game but only to win the next four points. It was the only game where he dropped more than one point on serve. Finally, David broke one last time as Rosol was serving to stay in the match, converting his fourth match point.

The stats, and unfortunately there's only the stats to look at, paint the picture of a match in which David was the utterly dominant and far better player. Dominant especially on serve - he dropped a total of only 6 points on serve in the whole match. Making up for his poor percentage of first serves in the first set by winning 90% of his second serves. David converted 5 of the 17 break points he had in the course of the match. And although that may seem like a bad percentage (and that he could've made the match even shorter and more one-sided than it already was), all those games where David had break points also ended with a break.
In short, a great start for David and a dominant performance. Though it has to be said that Lukas Rosol is more of a clay-courter and not the kind of player to really pose a threat to David on hardcourt. Still, David has every right to be happy and content with this match - and he is:
It was a very good first round. I feel that every day I’m getting better, so I’m happy with the play today. I didn’t start very well in the US Open Series, but week after week I’m feeling better, playing better and that’s the result today.
(source; thanks for the tip, Ashot)

Update (05/10)
News from the Davis Cup front. A little earlier than planned the news transpired via the Spanish press today that the RFET, Spain's tennis federation, has chosen Sevilla to be the host of this year's Davis Cup final. The decision still has to be approved by the ITF. But the Estadio Olimpico de Sevilla, normally a football stadium, has served as the venue of a Davis Cup final before. Back in 2004, it was there that Spain defeated the USA on a clay court built on the pitch, underneath a temporarily erected roof (as can be seen in this photo). A similar construction can be expected for this year's final.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tokyo R1 - David vs Lukas Rosol

(Yusuke Sato)

UpdateII (04/10)
A perfect start for David at Tokyo: It took him merely 49 minutes to dispatch Lukas Rosol 6-1, 6-1.
In the second round on Thursday he'll now face Ivan Dodig, who prevented a possible battle of the Davis Cup teammates by beating Juan Monaco 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(1). It'll be David's first encounter with Dodig.

More soon.

(Getty Images; montage by VD)

Update (04/10)
2.42pm local - David's match is now about to begin. - On the scoreboard.

This match won't take place until tomorrow, i.e. Tuesday, local time. But due to the time difference (and me, not being here tonight) I'm going to do things a little differently today by already posting this preview. Apart from that, there's already a lot to have a look at (see below).
- Which also serves as proof that this time, David has indeed undertaken the trip to Asia, starting with Tokyo. It's his first appearance at this event since 2004.

In his first match at Tokyo, David (still #64) gets to face a player he has never met before.
Lukas Rosol, ranked #77 as of this week, has spent most of this season playing Challenger events and preferably on clay. On this surface he has posted his best results, including two Challenger titles. And it was also on clay that he managed to pull off his biggest win this year, defeating last year's semifinalist Jürgen Melzer in the second round at Roland Garros (before losing to Juan Ignacio Chela in the third). It was the only time this season that Rosol made it past the second round at an ATP-level event. And he went out in the first round at the last four tournaments he played, including at Kuala Lumpur, last week (where he lost to Lukasz Kubot).

I'll admit that I've never seen Lukas Rosol play before so I can't say anything about his game, his strengths or weaknesses. And chances are that David doesn't really know anything about him, either. So he'll probably need a few games to see who and what he's dealing with. But whether it's going to be a slow start or a bright one for David in this match - the only way of following it will be the scoreboard.

Before the start of the tournament, David took part in a charity event yesterday for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. A clip of it you can watch here (thanks, Ashot; photos on the Photo Page). There, David was presented with a grant from the ATP for his foundation, as part of the ATP Aces for Charity program. But also his training session at the Ariake Colosseum was the subject of much public attention and there are several videos of it.

Another clip you'll find here (thanks, Noubar) and here, plus the rest of the series the clip above is taken from: part1, part3, part4, part5 and part6.
Edit: Here's another clip of David, practicing his serve on an outside court.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tokyo Draw

According to his plans as mentioned in the last interview, David was due to arrive in Tokyo yesterday. So here's what's going to await him at the first of his "Davis Cup final preparatory tournaments".
David has been drawn into the bottom half and once again into Andy Murray's quarter:

[7] Radek Stepanek (CZE) vs Somdev Devvarman (IND)
[Q] Marco Chiudinelli (SUI) vs Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP)
[Q] Matthew Ebden (AUS) vs Pablo Andujar (ESP)
Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs [3] David Ferrer (ESP)

[8] Juan Monaco (ARG) vs Ivan Dodig (CRO)
David Nalbandian (ARG) vs Lukas Rosol (CZE)
Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) vs Alex Bogomolov Jr. (USA)
Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) vs [2] Andy Murray (GBR)

The complete draw you'll find here.

Against his first-round opponent Lukas Rosol, currently ranked #78, David has never played before. Just like against Ivan Dodig (currently #37), who he could meet in the second round - or his Davis Cup teammate Juan Monaco (ranked #27 at the moment; match record: 2-1 for David). Before in a hypothetical quarterfinal another encounter with Andy Murray might await.