Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Look ahead at the Tournaments on Grass

As the term 'grass season' may seem a bit exaggerated for what's in effect merely a brief spell of four weeks. Therefore, here's a look at the two tournaments (and one exhibition) that David is planning to play in the coming weeks. On grass. It's been a while...
The last time David played on grass was in 2008. And back then, his schedule looked exactly the way it does now - Queen's Club, Boodles and then Wimbledon. When he played these events in 2008, David was having major problems with his hip. Now, three years later, the time has finally come to make a new start, "on England's green and pleasant land".

Queen's Club, London (June 6-12)


(Getty Images)

After years of preparing for Wimbledon at Boodles and twice also at Halle (where he never made it past the first round), in 2008 David went and tried something new - the Queen's Club. A change that paid off. David won his first two rounds in straights (against Troicki and Mahut, the latter the previous year's runner-up) before having a more difficult time than usual, defeating Gasquet. But disaster really struck in the semifinal, where David only managed to win exactly one game against Djokovic. Back then, it seemed like one of the worst, if not the worst match David ever played. Only about a year later it became clear that he was playing with an injury at the time and how grave that injury really was.
Still, despite the unfortunate end to his visit to the Queen's Club, it was obvious that this event was much better suited for David than Halle. And therefore it's really no surprise that it's part of his schedule again, this year.
Due to the brevity of the "grass season", the Queen's Club, as one of the two major preparatory events for Wimbledon, has a field that other 250 events (or 500 events) can only dream of, including Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. But thanks to his still good enough ranking, David will be seeded and therefore able to avoid any higher ranked/seeded players until the third round.


Exhibition: The Boodles Challenge, Stoke Park (June 14-18)


(Wikipedia)

Playing the exhibition event at Stoke Park, west of London, is a tradition with David. And according to the Boodles website, he's going to set a record this year, with what will be his altogether eighth appearance. (On par with the Copa Argentina.) In other words, David likes this event very much. And apparently, he feels rather comfortable at Stoke Park, the manor house and resort that has served as a picturesque backdrop in a variety of films, including two James Bond movies, Bridget Jones's Diary and the movie Wimbledon.
This year, David will be joined by: David Ferrer, Gael Monfils, Viktor Troicki, Sam Querrey, Marcos Baghdatis and as the most recent addition to the field, Juan Martin Del Potro. (Though changes in the line-up can and do occur.)
In the past, Boodles often enough proved to be not only exclusive but also - elusive. Trying to find out the results used to be nothing short of an adventure. Last year however, and for the very first time, there was not only a working results page, there was even a stream. So there might be a chance to watch David play. - Preparing for the big one...


The Championships, Wimbledon (June 20 - July 3)


(Getty Images)

Back when David played his last Championships, the Centre Court at Wimbledon did not yet have a roof. But apart from that, and the newly built Court 3, nothing much has changed at the oldest and most prestigious of all tennis tournaments. Middle Sunday, "Wimbledon Whites", the absence of ad banners, strawberries and Pimms, and the eternal uncertainty factor that is called the English weather - it's all still the same and it will be again, this year.
As mentioned in the previous post, David's history at Wimbledon began back in junior days, when he missed his semifinal match (against Jürgen Melzer, by the way) and got defaulted. Three years later, however, David returned to Wimbledon, this time as a pro, and famously reached the final. A feat that makes it easy to overlook that apart from that 2002 final, David's results at Wimbledon haven't really been that spectacular. And it's been six years since he last made it to the second week of the tournament, with the quarterfinal he reached back in 2005 his second best result at Wimbledon. Ever since then, it's been early exits for David, whether in the third round (2006 and 2007) or even in the first round, though in 2008 (as became known only much later) he was hampered by his hip injury.

It's been three years but now they'll finally meet again - David and the grass courts of England. And although David will always be most at home on hardcourt, he has said often enough that he also likes to play on grass. So let's hope he's going to have a good time, playing on it this year.

P.S. Here's a silly little something I've made on the occasion...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interlude - Save the Transcript!

So it's the first week of Roland Garros, complete with epic clay-court battles, upsets and the ever capricious Parisian crowd - and yet, something is different. Or rather, something is missing. (And no, I don't mean David - though he's missing too.) During this year's Roland Garros, there will be no transcripts of the players' press conferences, at the request of the International Tennis Writers Association (ITWA). To ensure that tennis fans around the world get what the ITWA considers to be the best possible coverage - by its professional writers and not by reading transcripts or, what's even worse, blogs.

Back when I first became a David fan, I soon learned to appreciate transcripts. Not just because there weren't that many articles about David in the English-speaking press but also because a lot of those I did get to read seemed biased, designed to further David's image as the eternally grumpy sourpuss. It's true, David can be rather uncooperative, dealing with the media. Still, the impression I got was that those articles were more about his image than about David, himself. That's how I came to appreciate transcripts - no bias, just questions and answers, unedited and uncut. And including those little details that may not necessarily be article material - but that are interesting for fans because they convey a much more complete picture of the player.
Here are a couple of examples from David's press conferences over the years (with links to the complete transcripts):

An anecdote from the past (Wimbledon 2002)
Q. You were a semifinalist in the Junior event here, correct?
DAVID: Yeah, I do.
Q. You were disqualified?
DAVID: Yeah.
Q. Because you were late to the match, if I understand correctly.
DAVID: Yeah, they change the schedule, and I never know it.
Q. How early are you going to come to the semifinal?
DAVID: I think I going to sleep here (smiling).
A special kind of celebration (Australian Open 2003)
Q. You went back to your ciudad, your home, it's not little, but a small place. I think you told us at the US Open that they had a statue of you there, or was it a plaque?
DAVID: A racquet.
Q. Pardon me?
DAVID: A racquet.
Q. In marble or steel?
DAVID: No, I don't know.
Q. But it's there?
DAVID: I don't make it, the racquet.
Q. It's there forever?
DAVID: Yeah.
Too early for David (Monte Carlo 2006)
Q. Was it too early for you?
DAVID: Very early. I don't know, this kind of tournament, it's ridiculous to play at this time. Looks like, I don't know, futures - futures in, I don't know, nowhere. So it's ridiculous.
Q. You're not used to playing that early?
DAVID: No, no. And when you ask to play a little bit late, so it's worse.
The well-kept secret to beating Federer (Indian Wells 2008)
Q. Were you looking forward to playing Roger again and maybe beating him a third time in a row?
DAVID: Why not?
Q. Do you have some insight or some secrets on how that's done?
DAVID: Yeah.
Q. Would you like to share them or something?
DAVID: No.
Q. So you really think you could beat him again? You're looking forward to it?
DAVID: Uh-huh.
These are just a few of those little moments that could very easily be lost if the ITWA gets its way. But if transcripts really pose a threat to tennis journalism - then what does that say about tennis journalism...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rankings Update & New Radio Interview

First of all - it's Monday and that means it's time for the weekly look at the rankings. This week, David loses one place and is now ranked #23. He will also be ranked #23 next week (as it'll be the second week of Roland Garros and the rankings don't change during Slams) and that's important because next week's rankings will decide the seeding at the Queen's Club. Being ranked #23, David will be seeded 11th, or thereabouts (if I'm counting correctly).

Apart from that, David did a live interview for the show "El Podio" on Argentine radio AM 1280 yesterday. During which he not only confirmed that he'll soon be on his way to London but also said that he's looking forward to making his comeback and that he hopes he'll be making a good one. Adding that he's doing pretty well now but that he needs to play matches, to compete and to find his rhythm. Much of the rest of the interview was, once again, about the Davis Cup...
It's very important for me because it's a title that Argentina has never been able to win and had we won it in those years it wouldn't be as important at this stage of my career.

It's different. It's something else. It's spectacular, it's beautiful.

I'm always available for the team and the coaches. The people and the country know that I'm dedicated and that I deliver when it comes to this [i.e. Davis Cup]. If you have to train, you train. If you have to talk, you talk. And if you try to win, you win. I don't have any problems with that, apart from the fact that I got injured in Argentina.

[About Delpo and whether he'll play the next tie]
I don't know, I really have no idea. Hopefully we can count on him because he's a very valuable player for us and it would be important for him to be part of the team.
One of the non-Davis-Cup-involving questions concerned the Olympics in London next year. Asked about whether he's planning to play the Olympic tennis competition, which will of course take place at Wimbledon, David had the following to say:
The Olympic Games are something unbelievable for all athletes, beyond the fact that ours is a different reality in terms of professionalism. I had the misfortune of not being able to play in Athens, at Beijing I had the problem with my hip, and next year in London I hope to be healthy enough to compete, because it is a very nice event that you don't get to play every day, which gives it a lot of prestige, and where you get to represent the country in a different way than on the Tour.
Finally, David was also asked about Roland Garros and about the two favourites for the title, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic...
On clay I thought that Rafa would beat Novak, except at Madrid, because of the altitude. I was surprised that at Rome he beat him again. But Roland Garros is always different and Rafa has a plus there. Hopefully, Rafa can win again, though Novak has had a perfect year so far.
(quotes via Cancha Llena)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Wildcard for the Queen's Club


(Getty Images)

It's official, the first wildcard for this year's tournament at the Queen's Club in London (June 6-12) goes to - David. I'll quote from the article on the subject on the tournament website:
“I am looking forward to starting my comeback from injury on grass at the AEGON Championships at The Queen’s Club,” said a grateful Nalbandian.

“It has been a frustrating time, but my recovery is going well and I expect to be in good shape for the tournament. I enjoy playing on grass, and reaching the Wimbledon final in 2002 was a special moment in my career. I hope to have a successful grass court season this year.”

Tournament Director Chris Kermode was delighted to welcome him into the singles main draw.

“The AEGON Championships has a tradition of using its wild cards to give opportunities to established players who have had a difficult time with injuries,” he said. “In awarding our first wild card to David Nalbandian we have maintained that tradition, and added an exciting, explosive and entertaining tennis player to our singles main draw.”
Apart from the Queen's Club, David is planning to play the Boodles Challenge, an exhibition event (June 14-18), and then, of course, Wimbledon (June 20 - July 3).

Update (19/05)
From a new Clarin article, here's a bit more about David's current preparations:
Nalbandian trained with Brian Dabul last week and with Andrea Collarini yesterday. His team's plan [for him] is to start training on hardcourt soon, to readjust to the different speed of the ball. Apart from that, practice sessions on a private grass court are also planned. By the end of next week, Nalbandian will travel to London in order to have enough time to prepare for the Queen's Club and to then focus on Wimbledon.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rankings Update

First of all, and by now traditionally, the weekly look at the rankings. This time, there's a nice little surprise: David moves up two places and is now ranked #22. (Thanks to Alexandr Dolgopolov, Michael Llodra and Thomaz Bellucci all dropping points and falling back behind David, while Florian Mayer overtakes him.)

Apart from that, and I'm sure David will have liked that, Argentina beat Kazakhstan 3-0 in what could be described as a miniature "test tie" at the World Team Cup in Düsseldorf, yesterday. The Argentine team, consisting of David's Davis Cup teammates Juan Monaco and Juan Ignacio Chela (and completed by Maximo Gonzalez), won both singles matches as well as the doubles against Kazakhstan's Andrey Golubev and Mikhail Kukushkin without dropping a set. Argentina won the title last year and they've done very well at the World Team Cup in the past, though usually without David, who played this event only twice in his career (2003 and 2006).

That's it for the moment.
More about David and the current state of affairs as soon as possible.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Making Of: David's Decision

The dust has settled a little after David's double withdrawal. Meanwhile, after a few more statements and lots and lots of articles on the subject, it's getting a bit clearer now why David made the decision to pull out of Nice and Roland Garros. Which is to say - there's now something like an official version of how that decision came about.

And what sums up this official version pretty well is an audio interview with Bernardo Ballero, embedded with this article.
According to Ballero, David was working on getting ready in time to play Nice as preparation for Roland Garros. But after the virus and the fever and the loss of muscle mass that went with it, David and his team had to realise that he has not yet regained enough "muscular strength" and "power" for a comeback at Nice. So he would've had to return at Roland Garros and even though he would've probably been ready in time for it, he would've had to return at Roland Garros without any match practice and playing best-of-five matches on clay. - And that's what David and his team decided against.
Instead, he will continue to train and he'll come back when he's "in shape, both in terms of his tennis and above all, physically". And Ballero confirms once more that David's projected comeback tournament is now the Queen's Club.

Apart from that, there are now also a couple of statements from David himself (via the official site's Facebook page):
"I lost between 5 and 6 kilos of muscle mass as the result of having contracted a virus that caused a fever I had for 10 days. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to recover from that in time."

"The fever made it impossible for me to train so we had to change the date for the comeback on the Tour."

"I'm very sad that once again, I'm not able to play Roland Garros. I'll keep training in order to return to the Tour in the best possible way. I have many goals to achieve this year and I want to achieve them."
What exactly these goals are (apart from the Davis Cup, of course), David doesn't say. But despite the latest setback, it sounds like he still has his plans, his goals and ambitions for the rest of this season. And that's good to know.

For now, David continues his training at the Vilas Club in Buenos Aires. Today, he's practicing with Argentine player Brian Dabul (you may remember him for having been at the receiving end of this shot), who tweeted yesterday that he'll be training with "the 'king' Nalbandian".

(Note: Sorry about the delay. Blogger.com was down from yesterday evening until now and the "resolving of maintenance issues" was why you couldn't leave any comments and I couldn't post this any earlier. It's also the reason the last couple of comments on the former post have simply disappeared...)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Withdrawal Method - David out of Nice and Roland Garros


(Getty Images)

The courts are being prepared at the Stade Roland-Garros in Paris. But once again, David won't be among those, playing on them. Earlier today, his spokesman Bernardo Ballero delivered the news that David has decided to pull out of Nice and Roland Garros, making this the third year in a row that he will miss the clay-court Slam.
Ballero spoke to Argentine news agency Telam, I'll quote from their article.
"Because of the fact that he didn't get match practice on clay, Nalbandian decided not to play Nice and Roland Garros and to continue his recovery in order to make his comeback on the Tour in the best possible way."

"David had a fever that affected him for a week and delayed his training, and that led to him, taking the decision to withdraw from Nice and Roland Garros."

Being one of the Grand Slam tournaments, Roland Garros is played in the best-of-five format, which means that it requires a greater physical effort from the players. An issue that was also evaluated among Nalbandian's team.
Therefore, he will return to the Tour at the Queen's Club tournament in England, which starts on June 6.
- Apparently with a wildcard, since David's name is not on the Queen's Club entry list.

Update
More from Ballero, this time via Cancha Llena:
As his spokesman Bernardo Ballero confirmed to canchallena.com, Nalbandian is not yet in top shape, physically. A week after the operation, which took place in March, David suffered a severe fever, because of which he had to rest for 10 days and which made him lose five to six kilos of muscle mass that according to Ballero he "still hasn't recovered".

"He shouldn't have any problems, coming back at Queen's," the spokesman said. Nalbandian will return at this event, prior to the tournament at Wimbledon, which starts on June 20. He also said that he will play the Davis Cup quarterfinal against Kazakhstan.

That's the official version and as much info as there is at the moment. The rest is questions and speculations. What's clear is that his preparations have been severely affected by his illness and the loss of weight that went with it. But if he's "ready" now as Ballero said in another quote (mentioned in the previous post) the question remains why he doesn't go and give it a try, as he could still pull out later if it doesn't work out. Personally, I'm getting the impression that playing on clay as such (outside of the Davis Cup, I might add) is considered too much of a risk. And I'd like to think that's because of David's latest surgeries. But it's probably something else... Even if that certain something is still two months away.
David will do whatever it takes to be there and in shape for the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie in July. That's the one thing that is certain. Last year, in a similar situation, he skipped Wimbledon for the same reason. So will he travel to Britain this time? I very much hope so - but I wouldn't bet my house on it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Waiting for News about Nice... - Now it's there and it's bad News

Update (10/5)
Last night, it was still just a prediction.
But according to Quique Cano, it's official now and he has that info from Ballero:
Official, Nalbandian is out of Nice and RG [Roland Garros]. "He's ready to come back but it's not advisable to return on clay, best-of-five. He'll come back at Queen's," says Ballero.
Edit: It is official. New post coming soon...


Another week, another clay-court Masters without David but this time, there's a slight change in terms of the rankings - David loses one place and now finds himself at #24.
And that's all there is for me to report at the moment.

But at least it won't be much longer now until there's going to be a decision. Concerning Nice and with it Roland Garros - because if David decides he's not ready to play Nice then he also won't play Roland Garros (for what would be the third year in a row).
And that's how Nice, the surprise addition to David's schedule, has now risen to unexpected importance... I'm expecting David's "verdict" to come in the next couple of days, probably Thursday at the latest.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Davis Cup Intermezzo - The Chinese Interview


(Sergio Cejas; from the MundoD shoot in late March)

While the wait continues for news about whether or not he will play Nice (and if so, Roland Garros), David has been making news of a different kind. Here's what happened over the last couple of days. As mentioned previously in the comments, David gave an interview to the Chinese Xinhua News Agency, an interview that the agency had been trying to get for months. During the twenty minutes they finally got with David at the Vilas Club, one of the topics was the Davis Cup. I'll quote from their English version of the article:
He [David] said that unity is a key if the Argentine team is to succeed in reaching the semifinals and appealed to team captain Modesto "Tito" Vasquez for getting more involved in order to ensure that unity prevails between the players.
"It is the job of the captain. With Tito I don't really talk about the topic, because we never really see him. Tito only shows up in the week of the Davis Cup," he said, but expressed hope that Argentina will present the country's best players to the matches against Kazakhstan.
(The complete article you can read here.)
That quote about Vázquez caused a commotion in the Argentine press and apparently also made it onto Argentine TV. Which prompted a reply from David in form of the following press release:
"In order [for my words] to be interpreted correctly and in an adequate context, I would like to clarify that I do not have a problem with the captain, Modesto 'Tito' Vázquez, with whom I have a respectful relationship."
Apart from that, David said that he's fully available to the captain to contribute to the benefit of the team in any way, as he has always done in the course of his career.
"My intention is to continue with my recovery in order to make my comeback on the Tour in the best possible way and to get ready well ahead of the next Davis Cup tie to be played in our country. I only have a few years left of my career and I'm going to give everything to try and make Argentina win the Davis Cup."
You'll notice that David doesn't explicitly deny having said these things but claims that they were taken out of context. Though whether his words leave much room for interpretation is another question. And it's not the first time that David has caused a stir with statements about Vázquez. Apart from Lyon last year, there was also this incident back in 2009 (with obvious similarities). Back then, the AAT wanted David punished but Vázquez decided against it.

Much ado about nothing? - Perhaps, but also indicative of a variety of things. Of how seriously the Davis Cup gets taken in Argentina and of the tension that's already starting to build (even with the next tie still two months away). And then there's also the background story, the incidents I have mentioned, as well as David's traditionally dominant approach to being on the Davis Cup team. Another tradition is his, let's say - volatile relationship with the Argentine media. In this case, there's been an attempt at taking control of the news situation. Something I'd like to see more of, whether by means of the official site or its extensions. The instruments are there - but they don't get used. Instead, it falls to the media to report what news there is.

Last but not least, further (and innocuous) quotes from the "Chinese interview":
"I'm not going to play Rome next week and the idea is to see if I can play a tournament [i.e. Nice] before Roland Garros. It's very difficult to start at a best-of-five tournament so we're going to wait but we're going to see how things evolve during these weeks."

"I know I can play one, two or three more years and then it's going to be my body that will decide for how long I can remain to be competitive. For now, I'm going to play the next tournaments and I'm going to see over the course of these years how long I can last, physically." (via Cancha Llena)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rome - no, but maybe Nice...?

It's official, David isn't going to make his comeback at the Masters in Rome. That's the answer to one of the many questions surrounding David, his current situation and his plans for the coming weeks. Or even - months?
Here's the latest article from Clarin that attempts to shed at least some light on what's going on with David, as well as on what his plans are now.
The objective of his team is for him to be ready for the ATP 250 tournament in Nice, which starts on May 16, and for Roland Garros. Although at this point no one would dare to vouch for a specific date.

Nalbandian's spokesman Bernardo Ballero told Clarin.com that Nalbandian has not yet fully recovered from the virus that affected him when he took up training again. That virus [or rather, the fever that went with it] made him lose muscle mass that Nalbandian, who's still Argentina's number one player, needs to recover to lend more power to his game and to prevent injuries.

With the goal of getting ready [to play matches], Nalbandian began with his preparatory training last week, which continues in double shifts. What's certain though is that as time goes by, the doubts continue to grow about his state after the double surgery he underwent and these continuous postponements.
Edit: News agency Telam quotes Bernardo Ballero, who says that David has dropped "seven or eight kilograms of muscle mass":
"He's still in the process of gaining weight and muscle mass," said Ballero, who confirmed that Nalbandian will try to play Nice and Roland Garros.
Or in the more concise version from the Fue Buena Twitter:
Nalbandian pulls out of Rome, intends to play Nice though he knows it's going to be difficult.
If he doesn't play Nice, he's not going to play Roland Garros.
So apparently, playing on clay has not yet been ruled out completely. Instead, at least reportedly, it's all going to depend on David's progress next week and whether or not he'll be ready in time for Nice.
In moments like this one, I'd love to be able to offer you some quotes from David or his camp (as in, his team). But once again, there's only the Argentine media to rely on.

Monday, May 2, 2011

In the Absence of any real News...

Update (04/05)
Fresh from Danny Miche's Twitter:
"Nalbandian pulls out of Rome, will he play Roland Garros??? mmmm"
Edit: David's withdrawal from Rome is official.
(He's still on the entry lists for Nice and Roland Garros - for now.)

No official statement yet. But I guess we all know what's going to happen...


David remains at #23 in the rankings for another week.
As I write this, his name can still be found on the entry list for Rome.
DiarioShow.com is still the only site saying that David won't return before the Queen's Club.
Quique Cano still maintains that the decision about Rome will come on Thursday.
While Danny Miche thinks Nice is more likely than Rome. He has heard of the 'Queen's Club theory' - but he doesn't really know what's going on, either.
[Edit: To that list I can also add Fue Buena. David's return? "At Rome, Nice or on grass.")
And David's official site (together with its extensions) keeps its usual, comprehensive silence.

In short - absolutely nothing has changed since the previous post.
The news situation, or rather the lack of, is still exactly the same.
If that changes, whether on Thursday or sooner (or later...) - I'll let you know.