Wednesday, August 31, 2011

US Open R1: David Overcomes Reynolds - and Himself

In the early stages of this match it didn't necessarily look like it would end the way it eventually did, with those last two points you can watch in the clip above and a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory for David. But after a once more gruesome start, and with a much improved serve performance, David managed to get back on track again. An important win - in every respect.
In the second round, David will now face an "old friend", 30th seed Ivan Ljubicic (match record 5-3 for the Croat).

The first set looked rather a lot like David's recent matches, especially the one against Wawrinka at Montréal. The serve wasn't the problem this time. It was much more a general lack of sharpness during the rallies. With David looking slow and often a step behind, in terms of getting to the ball but also not reading his opponent's game (and serve) the way he's capable of. Still, he tried to take the initiative in the rallies, tried to go for controlled aggression - only that the control part didn't work too well at that stage. With the wild backhand error that cost him his serve and eventually the set as the perfect example.

However, going down a set in a best-of-five match isn't as dramatic as in a best-of-three match. And it was only after the first set was lost that David slowly began to find his rhythm and his range. Not in form of a steady or linear kind of development. And he was still was making far too many errors (especially, as always, with the forehand). But between those errors there were now rallies where the sluggishness and the lack of control from the first set made way for groundstroke winners and well-constructed points. It began with a couple of flashy points in the second set (like his running forehand winner not too long before he got the first break) and ended in the fourth with David, now in charge of most of the rallies, going for a bit of showboating (e.g. the dropshot/lob combo). But that's exactly the point. David didn't just manage to work his way into the match and raise his level. It was more like he was finally finding his game again - and his confidence in it.

As mentioned before, David's serve was much improved, compared to the Murray match. Maybe even as much as could realistically be hoped for. The numbers may not really be impressive (50% first serves, 8 double faults but also 10 aces) but what matters is that this time he won enough points on both first and second serve (74% and 60%, respectively) and also that his serve didn't let him down in the important moments - and of those there were quite a few in this match. In sets two to four David faced a total of 9 break points, including 3 in a row when he went down 0-40, serving for the third set - and saved all of them. And while on the other hand he also didn't make enough of his chances to break (only 4/13; including 6 set points) I think with this match it's more important that he didn't let those wasted opportunities get to him.

Before the match, I wrote that Bobby Reynolds was pretty much the perfect first-round opponent for David. Now I'm going to add that I think this was also pretty much the perfect first-round match for David. As it provided exactly what he needs at the moment. Three hours on court, complete with those tight, important situations that neither training nor practice matches can prepare him for. But most of all he not only managed to overcome Bobby Reynolds last night. He also overcame that first set and his initial problems, proving to himself that his game is still there. And while the last couple of matches can't have been too much fun for David, last night, also with the chants and the support from the crowd, he must have enjoyed it.
Hopefully, he'll be able to build on this match and this experience.

(photos: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Edit: Here's a spectacular rally from the match (thanks, Noubar).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

US Open R1 - David vs Bobby Reynolds


Things didn't look too promising in the first set but this time David managed to fight back and find his way into the match, eventually sealing his 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory after exactly three hours.
In the second round, his opponent will now be 30th seed Ivan Ljubicic.

More tomorrow...

(AP Photo/Getty Images; montage by VD)
When David walks out on Court 17 today, it'll be to play the tenth US Open first-round match of his career - a new Slam record. And only for the second time after 2001, he'll do so as an unseeded player. But even as one of the seeds David could've hardly had better luck with his opponent than he has now for this anniversary match.

For Bobby Reynolds, 29 years old like David, it's the fifth time that he gets to play a first-round match at the US Open. And the one time he made past the first round, in 2008, he went out in the second. Ranked as high as #63 in 2009, Reynolds has spent this season almost exclusively playing Challenger events and he has yet to win a match at ATP level this year (0 for 2, with first-round exits at Auckland and the Queen's Club; his current ranking: #118).

Now, as you will know I like to poke fun at David's habit of not always remembering his (lower-ranked) opponents. And when his official site initially proclaimed that this was going to be David's first encounter with Reynolds, I was almost ready to believe that David might have some influence on what's on that site, after all. By now they've corrected their mistake - it's indeed the second time that he gets to face Bobby Reynolds.
The first time was also a first-round match, at Stockholm 2008. Back then it took David less than an hour to dispatch him 6-1, 6-1. A match that was as one-sided as the scoreline suggests and even if David doesn't remember it, maybe Reynolds does.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn't expect Bobby Reynolds to cause David much trouble, with his solid game that doesn't have any great weaknesses but also no great strengths. But how normal the circumstances will be today, what David's serve is going to be like and how he's going to deal with playing best-of-five again - we'll see.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Play at the US Open Starts Today

On Saturday, it didn't look like this was going to be possible - but now it is. After New York City didn't get hit by Hurricane Irene as badly as expected and after the Billie Jean National Tennis Center survived it with only "minimal damage" - the US Open will kick off today.

But while today there's a revised schedule in place, play might start a little later than planned and there could still be some chaos on the site David doesn't need to concern himself with any of that. As his name is not on the schedule for today, he'll get to play his first match either tomorrow or on Wednesday.

Edit: I forgot to include the rankings update. David moves up one place this week to #76.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Warning & More on David's Situation

(AP Photo/NASA)

That's what it looks like from space - Hurricane Irene, on its way to what could be New York City. For three years in a row now the US Open final had to be postponed to Monday because of bad weather. But this time, disaster might strike already at the start of the tournament - and on a whole new scale. While the USTA has already cancelled the traditional Kid's Day today, public transport has been shut down in New York and areas close to sea level are being evacuated.

Right now, the US Open website still maintains that play is scheduled to start on Monday at 11am EST. Adding, however, that meaningful updates about the situation won't be possible until Sunday evening (local time). The tournament website's page with the latest info on the weather and its impact on the schedule you'll find here.

On a different, David-related note: Yesterday, the following article appeared on Jorge Viale, the author, writes for Argentine, as well as international publications and he's also the one behind Fue Buena, the blog I often rely on for info. After David's loss to Andy Murray at Cincy, we had a discussion here on VD about David's situation. Here's Jorge Viale's take on it.
That image of last year, David Nalbandian returning to the circuit and knocking down Top 20 players at Washington and Toronto as if it was a game of bowling, seems far away now, both in terms of time and when it comes to the chance of repeating itself.

The former world no. 3 is going through a different phase now, one where everything is more difficult. Something that's logical for a high-level athlete in this kind of situation, after having had hip surgery. Previously, his ability was praised to reintegrate himself quickly into the circuit but the situation now is a different one. Training and playing practice sets isn't enough. The level you recover by playing matches but the victories don't come. Nalbandian is trapped in a vicious circle: He doesn't win because he doesn't play, he doesn't play because he doesn't win. Due to the double hernia and adductor surgery he was away from the Tour between February and June and played 23 matches this year. Gael Monfils, the Top 10 player with the least amount of matches, has 42.

"I'm far away from the level I'm trying to achieve," says Nalbandian while he drops down the in the ranking. This week he's ranked #77 and that's a figure which shows the present situation. For the first time since the Australian Open in 2002 he won't be on the list of the 32 seeded players. On that occasion, he won one round. Half a year later, he reached the final at Wimbledon, his only appearance in a Slam final.

Is it a physical problem or one that has to do with his tennis? Even though the two go together, those who know Nalbandian will point to the latter. Physically, today he's at 70% compared to the ideal state, thinner and with less muscle mass, the result of a flu virus that made him lose weight and which required four different antibiotics. Returning to the top level consists of three phases. First to get healthy again, then build on your strength and then much later starting with tennis and fine-tuning the strokes as quickly as possible.

His changed figure was the topic of discussion among the accredited journalists at the American tournaments. Several of them were surprised by it and declared on Twitter that Nalbandian was now in ideal shape. During the Masters in Madrid and Paris 2007, when Toni Nadal himself turned to Martin Jaite and told him he couldn't believe David's level of play against his nephew, Nalbandian weighed 84 kilos. The current American hardcourt swing he began with 79.

"I don't have any injuries or pain and that's positive," the Argentine said. The problem is the lack of matches and it showed itself clearly in his defeat against Stanislas Wawrinka at Montréal: poorly connected shots, the difficulty to keep up with the intensity of the rallies against the best in world, faulty shot-selection and a central problem, the serve. He has problems with the ball toss, with the coordination and therefore he doesn't have confidence in the shot. During his loss to Andy Murray at Cincinnati he showed signs of recovery during the exchanges from the back of the court but the serve again proved to be fateful: only 45% of first serves won and five double faults.

Technical problems might be bigger without a coach at his side who's able to provide an exact analysis but Nalbandian isn't thinking about getting one until at least next year. There's an example from the past that might make him think a coach is not the immediate solution. When he won the Masters Cup in 2005, he did so after five months of travelling only with a physio and a kinesiologist. "I'm not going to change much just for a couple of tournaments, I've done it like that for a while now. Later on I'll decide what I'm going to do," said Nalbandian. Candidate for the job in 2012: Alberto Mancini [Argentina's previous Davis Cup captain].

"Hopefully I can get the kind of continuity that I haven't had. To be up there in the ranking you have to compete. Since 2008 I haven't been able to keep a normal schedule, that's when the problems with my hip began and I had surgery in 2009. At the start of 2010 I didn't play well until after Wimbledon. I'm trying to make a last attempt at a new start," said Nalbandian on the show Buen Momento, on Radio La Red.

After hip surgery in 2009 the recommendation of Spanish doctor Angel Ruiz-Cotorro was to avoid weight bearing exercises. In these last two years, Nalbandian doesn't run long distances, doesn't do sessions at the gym and also doesn't do jumps. Instead, the physical work-out with his physio Claudio Galasso includes biking, exercises in the swimming pool and only during this last stage, after the improvement in that zone, some light jogging. Today, Nalbandian wouldn't put up with another surgical intervention that requires a long pause. He wouldn't have the patience to begin the recovery process yet again.

Nalbandian works within these limitations (you just have to look at others who have been affected by hip injuries, like Hewitt, Haas and Feña Gonzalez, they also had a difficult time, returning). His physio should compensate this with exercises on court (drills), those tasks that are designed to improve speed and endurance. Still, you cannot replace the work that's done at the gym in terms of building strength.

Despite the not exactly great situation now, Nalbandian's condition improves from day to day. Galasso and kinesiologist Diego Rodriguez worked with him in Miami until Thursday, today [Friday] they travel to New York and on Saturday, if Hurricane Irene allows it, it's time for the first training on the stage of the last Slam of the year. The penultimate part in a long series of events, the kind that leaves Nalbandian tired - the players who travel so much suffer from being away from home more than anything else - and ending with the Davis Cup in Serbia.

What motivates the Argentine to go on playing, four months before his 30th birthday? The first reason, and known to all, has just been mentioned: the Davis Cup. After the disappointment of the defeat against Spain at Mar del Plata 2008, Argentina has another chance this year with Juan Martin Del Potro on the team again. The tie in Belgrade will be extremely tough since it's an away tie and if both teams get there in full force. But we all know that it's a special competition, one where they can be surprises. If not this year, there's going to be another chance for Nalbandian next year.

The second objective is the Olympic Games in London 2012, his last chance to experience the Olympics as a professional tennis player. It could also be the first time that Nalbandian gets to play the Olympics well-prepared after he was already in Athens 2004 but then picked up an abdominal injury before his first match and had problems with his hip in Beijing 2008. Next year it's also going to be something special since it'll take place on grass at Wimbledon.

The pre-season in December is going to be crucial for a good start in 2012, which will probably be his last year on the professional circuit. The Davis Cup is what gives him the strength to continue. In a matter of weeks, Argentina will need the best Nalbandian possible, even under these circumstances, to stand a chance in the land of Djokovic.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

US Open Draw


After the last couple of draws were not too kind to David, he finally had better luck today with the draw for what will be the tenth anniversary edition of the US Open for him.
Just like last year, David has been drawn into Rafael Nadal's quarter. Which means the lower quarter of the bottom half:

[5] David Ferrer (ESP) vs Igor Andreev (RUS)
James Blake (USA) vs [Q] Jesse Huta Galung (NED)
Olivier Rochus (BEL) vs [Q] Jean-René Lisnard (MON)
Adrian Mannarino (FRA) vs [26] Florian Mayer (GER)
[21] Andy Roddick (USA) vs Michael Russell (USA)
[WC] Jack Sock (USA) vs Marc Gicquel (FRA)
Denis Istomin (UZB) vs Ryan Sweeting (USA)
Julien Benneteau (FRA) vs [10] Nicolas Almagro (ESP)

[16] Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) vs Ernests Gulbis (LAT)
Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) vs Gilles Muller (LUX)
Matthias Bachinger (GER) vs Igor Kunitsyn (RUS)
Eric Prodon (FRA) vs [17] Jürgen Melzer (AUT)
[30] Ivan Ljubicic (CRO) vs Blaz Kavcic (SLO)
[WC] Bobby Reynolds (USA) vs David Nalbandian (ARG)
Nicolas Mahut (FRA) vs [Q] Robert Farah (COL)
Andrey Golubev (KAZ) v [2] Rafael Nadal (ESP)

The complete draw you can check out here.

Unseeded this year, David could have drawn anybody in the first round, including the top seeds. But this time, fortune has granted him a first round that, quite frankly, could've hardly been any better. Bobby Reynolds, currently ranked #116, is not only a player who has spent almost all of this season playing Challenger events. He's also someone David has met before, in the first round at Stockholm, 2008. A match that ended with Reynolds getting a total of two games. And although I wouldn't bet my house on David still remembering that match (and Bobby Reynolds),
I do and it's a good memory.
In the second round, David would then be bound to meet either 30th seed Ivan Ljubicic or Blaz Kavcic. Ljubicic (currently #31) is an old "foe" of David and their match record still stands at 5-3 in the Croat's favour. However, David won their last encounter convincingly (last year at Cincy) and apart from that, "Ljubo" hasn't had the best of seasons so far and he has missed out on all previous US hardcourt swing events. Playing Kavcic on the other hand (#81) would be a first for David.
In any case, if David makes it through to the third round - it'll be time for the big one. A possible match against 2nd seed Rafael Nadal...
- Impossible to look any further than the hypothetical third-round blockbuster. We'll see if David can make it happen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rankings Update

It's Monday and here's a look at the latest rankings. The 45 points David lost at Cincy (for making the second round this time instead of the third last year) see him drop down 11 places this week to #77. It's the lowest he's been ranked since before winning the title at Washington last season.

So far, there's been no further news from David since his last match but as always, I'll keep looking for any updates on his US Open preparations.

Edit: Dragana (thanks!) from the Serbia Open website has done a short interview with David about the upcoming Davis Cup semifinal (September 16-18). The English version you can read here.

And it's not too long now until the US Open draw, which will take place on Thursday at 12pm EST (5pm GMT, 1pm Argentina). Just like last year, the US Open Draw Show will be live on ESPN2 and streamed on for those who are in the US. But chances are that for the rest of us, there's also going to be a stream again, via some of the free streaming sites.
So - only three more days now until we'll know what's going to await David at the US Open.

Update II (24/08)
The latest addition to David's schedule: Tokyo 500 (October 3-9).

Update (23/08)
It's been a while since I've posted anything from David's official site but here's their latest article:
On Thursday, when the main draw gets made, David's first opponent at the last Slam of the season will be revealed. The US Open will begin next Monday. Having played only four matches since his two surgeries, David will try to put in a good performance at Flushing Meadows, where he had his best result in 2003.

There have been several players who had to abandon the sport after undergoing hip surgery. David not only came back in 2010, he also won the title at Washington. In the second half of this season, after two further surgeries, he was the last Argentine in the draw at the Cincinnati Masters. David knows that he's on the right track.

After his return, his main goal was not to post good results. His objective basically was to get more hours of tennis in order to adapt to the highest level of competing. Now he's entering the US Open with the handicap of having little match practice. Still, "El Rey" promises that at New York he'll try to play his best tennis.
They got the number of matches wrong that David has played since double surgery (after all, we did get to see him at the Queen's Club and Wimbledon) and he wasn't the last Argentine player in the draw at Cincy (Del Potro and Monaco also lost in the second round).
But hopefully they're right about the rest.

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)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cincy R2 - David vs Andy Murray

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)


Before the match, I wrote that David wouldn't get away with serving the way he did in the previous round. What I couldn't foresee, however, was that he'd serve far worse... Managing to hold serve only twice throughout the match, David didn't stand a chance against Andy Murray, who prevailed 6-4, 6-1.
This defeat will cost David another 45 ranking points and somewhere around 11 positions in the rankings.

You can download the match via David on Screen (thanks, Krystle for the recording).

More tomorrow...

(Reuters; montage by VD)

It's time for the second round at Cincy today and with it for David's match against the one player whose current form is perhaps even more of a mystery than his own - fourth seed Andy Murray. Theoretically, they were already bound to meet in the third round at Montréal. However, that this match didn't get to happen last week was not only David's fault. Murray, the defending champion, crashed out in the second round (having had a bye in the first) against Kevin Anderson. It was the third time in a row that Murray lost his first match at a hardcourt Masters this season - a series that he'll want to end today.

Today's match will be the fifth encounter between these two, with the match record tied at 2-2 after four matches that included everything from five-set battle to one-sided beatdown. After David prevailed on the first two occasions (Wimbledon 2005 and Paris 2008, highlights here), Murray convincingly beat him at Toronto last year. In their last match at Paris, also last year, David was dominant at first before Murray successfully changed his tactics.

What their previous matches have shown is that for David, a lot depends on how well Murray is able to serve, how many first serves he gets in. At the same time, against Murray David won't get away with serving the way he did against Nishikori. How well he will be able to keep up with Murray from the back of the court remains to be seen and chances are that he'll have to move more and move better than in his latest matches. In short, unless Murray plays the way he did at Montréal (and I don't think he will) this match is going to be the biggest, toughest test for David since Wimbledon. Let's hope he'll be up to it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cincy R1 - David Raises His Level, Defeats Nishikori

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

There hasn't been much to cheer about lately. It's hard to know exactly what kind of tennis David is capable of playing these days, and difficult to know how to judge his matches. He went into this match as the underdog against Nishikori, the kind of odds that would have been unthinkable in the past, even after surgery.

Given his form in the past few tournaments, the goal wasn't really to come out of the blocks playing great tennis, but to hopefully build up some form, and for David to start feeling better about his game. And that's exactly what David achieved today, defeating Kei Nishikori 6-4 6-4 in what could be described as a relatively scrappy match (14 winners, 33 unforced errors for David, 7 winners 24 unforced errors for Nishikori).

In the first service game of the match, Nishikori started the match confidently hitting impressive forehands from the back of the court. Then when it was David’s turn to serve, it was a complete contrast. He opened the match with two double faults, appeared to be irritable and it could have been easy to write off his chances. He went down a break point, then he saved it with an ace. The rest of the points, he battled through them, and he continued this outlook the rest of the set. Keeping the rallies going, trying to get into a rhythm. It clearly showed that David's movement was well enough today to keep up to a certain level, rather than being completely left behind.

His groundstrokes were smooth and effortless, controlling the centre of the court. But they were also not as accurate as he would be in better form. Nishikori's level dropped after the first game, and he seemed lost tactically as well, relying too heavily on his shotmaking abilities even though they were deserting him.

Most of the time, I ended up with mixed feelings, as it was the sort of match, where David didn’t appear to be doing anything terribly wrong, apart from that very horrible smash at 2-1 in the first set (completely ruining a nice approach shot) and too many double faults. He was reasonably solid on both sides, and the depth of his groundstrokes did the damage more so than the side-to-side groundstrokes that we're used to seeing.

I guess because of that approach, the match was often lacking from an entertainment perspective. Though I’d say that was more Nishikori's fault, than David's. They may have ended up with similar numbers of errors in that first set, but I really got the impression that David played a far more mature match, whereas Nishikori appeared to be hitting the ball hard for no reason down the middle of the court, which isn't really worth the risk. Especially since David had so much more trouble chasing anything wide, and recovering from it.

There were many long games in the first set, and plenty of tension because of it. I thought David was the better player for much of the first set, so it was great to see him finally break through and get that break on Nishikori's serve at 3-3. But David really struggled with his confidence, and immediately lost his serve in the worst manner possible, hitting two double faults and making two errors that were nowhere near going in. He managed to recover quickly mentally though and regained the break, then served it out from a 0-30 position.

The second set was a very different story. This time, it was Nishikori who was the one that was clearly out of confidence, and David probably benefitted from seeing that on the other end of the court. Nishikori began spraying errors everywhere, then after a while, he showed a slight improvement but still looked like a beaten man. David used this more comfortable position, and mental advantage to show some more creativity, and play some more daring shots. So there'd be one or two great rallies per game, maybe one.

I’m not really sure whether he actually played any better, but he was definitely more relaxed, and perhaps that could have cost him considering that he really should have gone up 5-0 in the second set with all the break points he had. I guess he played it like it wasn’t really a contest anymore, and all the time, it felt like it wouldn’t be one, then Nishikori would manage to hang in there. I particularly liked that fast-paced forehand angled crosscourt winner on the run that David hit. And also that nice touch shot that he hit running up to a dropshot. Fortunately it ended up being a straightforward win anyway.

The highlights from the match are now available on YouTube, thanks to Andvari.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cincy R1 - David vs Kei Nishikori


After two first-round losses in a row David managed to stop the whole thing from turning into a streak today by defeating Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-4.
In the second round he'll now face Andy Murray.

More about the match from Krystle soon.

And more photos as soon as I can find any.

The match is now available for download via David on Screen (thanks, Krystle for the recording).

(photo: Reuters)

(AELTC/AP Photo; montage by VD)

First of all, it's Monday and therefore time for the weekly look at the rankings. And with it at the consequences of David's first-round exit at Montréal last week. Having lost 170 ranking points and 15 spots because of it, David is now ranked #66. - 14 places below his opponent today.

Kei Nishikori, ranked #52 as of this week, had to make his way through qualifying at Cincy but managed to win both rounds easily and without dropping a set (against Joao Souza and Mikhail Kukushkin). Which means that he has already had a good 'warm-up' and is used to the conditions. Whereas for David it's been another week of playing practice sets, useful and necessary of course, and yet not quite the same as playing matches.

As mentioned in the previous post, this will be the first encounter between David and Nishikori, though they've trained together before. And therefore David will know that Nishikori's favourite as well as his best shot is his forehand and that he likes to play aggressively from the baseline, though he's also quick on his feet and able to defend well. In short - this is not going to be an easy match for David.
The bookmakers have Nishikori down as the favourite. Whether David can prove them wrong and whether he'll be able to play and serve better than in the last two weeks - today's match will give the answers.
I won't be able to be here so Krystle will be in charge of VD and she'll cover the match for you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Opponent for David and a new Interview

After two days of waiting and following the qualifying matches it's now finally clear who will be David's opponent in the first round at Cincy: Kei Nishikori, currently ranked #48.
It's going to be the first encounter between these two. But in this case, David will have at least some sort of idea of what's awaiting him as he trained with Nishikori at the Queen's Club, not too long ago. The match will take place on Monday (see sidebar).

Meanwhile, somewhere between his training sessions, David did a phone interview with Sebastian Torok from La Nacion, his first one in a while. And a chance to hear from David himself about his recent first-round losses and his take on the current situation:
David: I'm a bit short of matches and rhythm. I'm improving every day. But I had tough first-round matches and I get to feel the consequences of the pause. There's no other choice but to continue training, working to get back to the level you want to be at.

Q: The circuit doesn't allow you to take a break. If you're out for a while you get to suffer in various ways.

David: Yes, yes, it's very tough, demanding. Apart from that, for a few years now I've been playing little and stopping, playing a little and stopping, and that makes it difficult. The consistency of those players who are healthy, and it also happened to me when I was among those, is much better compared to those who're coming back from injuries. The player who gets to play regurlarly has a very high level if you put him on a court with someone who's coming from having done recovery.

Q: You look a lot thinner now than usual. Is that still the result of the virus that you had after the operation and which made you also lose muscle mass?

David: (laughs) When I'm fat it's because I'm fat, when I'm thin it's because I'm thin? I'm fine, I don't have any troubles, I don't have any pain. I don't feel weaker because I'm thinner, not at all. I'm training very well. It's part of the training too.

Q: Was it difficult to deal with the latest injuries? How did they affect your state of mind?

David: You always want to play, obviously. When athletes goes through phases with injuries or surgeries then those are the saddest moments. But these are things that happen to you in a high performance sport that's as demanding [as tennis]. You go through tough times, but now that I am able to compete, I'm trying to get going, to improve and start winning matches.

Q: The ranking doesn't help getting more match practice. Losing points and not getting seeded, the first rounds, like at Montréal, are going to be against more difficult opponents.

David: Yes, at Montréal I wasn't seeded and I had to play against a great player like Wawrinka. It's normal. These tournaments are the best and it's very difficult to get an easy oppenent in the first round. But in my case, I can't expect much more if I don't play tournaments, right? If you don't play and don't do well then you can't improve your ranking, and this year I only played four or five tournaments, not more [seven, actually]. It's very difficult.

Q: You could also get to the Davis Cup semifinal against Serbia without having played much.

David: No, I think I'll be in good shape for it. That's one of my main goals and I still have two tournaments left. I'm training well and I am confident that I'll improve my form. I hope to be finding my rhythm quickly and to be at a good level. I think I have time.

Q: Which are the moments during a match where you get to feel the lack of match practice the most?

David: All the time, with everything in general. You lose confidence, it gets difficult to take risks. If you take risks is the ball going to go out? It's a bit of everything. It's one thing to train well and but another to play competitive matches. That's totally different. But I'll get there.

Q: Eliminating Serbia in the semifinal, would that be a feat?

David: They're the favourites, that's clear. But I think that if Juan Martin (Del Potro), the rest of the guys and me are all in good shape, then we can be dangerous for them. Djokovic has only lost one match this year and will be difficult to play against. But it's not impossible.

Q: It seems that at this stage of your career, there are few things that a coach could correct. You just parted ways with Luis Lobo. Are you thinking about getting another coach? Do you have any names in mind?

David: No, for now I'm fine with the way things are. So I'm going to continue like this for a while.

Q: You'll turn 30 in January. Federer had his 30th birthday a few days ago and he said, "the body tells you how old you are, not your age." How do you feel about that?

David: Well, I think my injuries speak for themselves. Roger is exceptionally gifted and he had no major physical problems during his career, despite having played a lot more matches than the average player. Each player has different injuries, related to their style of playing. Obviously at this point in my career I've suffered a lot of wear and tear, much more than the new generation. But I still really want to play.
The final question of the interview concerned the exhibition match against Rafael Nadal at the Parque Roca, planned to take place on December 8 (and for which Nadal is said to receive one million dollars). Apparently, it will be officially announced in the coming weeks. Though David sees some possible problems, concerning the scheduling.
We have to wait and see because a lot depends on the Davis Cup semifinal. Hopefully, Argentina will play in the final (December 2-4) and that would make it difficult for us to play the match on that date.
But first of all it's now - Cincy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Masters Cincinnati Draw

So here it is, David's draw for Cincy. And it's a slight case of "deja vu all over again"...
Once again, he has been drawn into the lower, i.e. Rafael Nadal's half, and once again he finds himself in Andy Murray's quarter. Only that this time, David is bound to already meet him in the second round, after facing a qualifier in the first.

[5] David Ferrer (ESP) vs BYE
QUALIFIER vs [WC] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)
Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) vs [Q] Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA)
Jürgen Melzer (AUT) vs [10] Gilles Simon (FRA)

[15] Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) vs Marin Cilic (CRO)
[WC] Robby Ginepri (USA) vs [Q] Alex Bogomolov Jr. (USA)
[Q] Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs David Nalbandian (ARG)
BYE vs [4] Andy Murray (GBR)

A look at the complete draw you can take here.

Update (14/08)
In today's final round of qualifying, David's first-round opponent will be decided. Still in the qualifying draw: Stepanek, De Voest, Roger-Vasselin, Johnson, Nishikori, Kukushkin, Schoorel, Ilhan, Mannarino, Benneteau, Gulbis, Andreev, Bogomolov and Cipolla.

Meanwhile, some photos of David training at Cincy with Juan Monaco yesterday you can view here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

On the Road to... Nowhere?


Update (09/08)
Here's the only quote from David about the match that I've been able to find.
I'm not satisfied with my level of play, I'm lacking match practice but with [playing] more matches, it's going to get better. I'm still far from being able to play the way that I want to.
But I don't have any injuries or pains and that's positive. (Source.)

It was clear that this first round against Stanislas Wawrinka at the Montréal Masters was going to be a tough match for David. And yet it was supposed to be his chance to turn the tide, after his star-crossed stint at Washington. But in the end, the match only confirmed the impressions from last week and in more than one way. After a gruesome first set in the course of which (just like in the Blake match) he didn't win a single game after 1-1, David went a down a double break again in the second before playing at least a little better (also helped by Wawrinka's level dropping a little) to get back one of the breaks - but not both. In the end, Wawrinka won 6-1, 6-4.
By the sheer numbers, it's not even the worst defeat that David has ever suffered against Wawrinka. At Barcelona, back in 2008, he only managed to win four games. But although David has lost to Wawrinka before, and badly at that, this defeat is a special one. And not only because of those 170 ranking points David has lost along with the match and because of which come next Monday, he'll be ranked too low to gain direct entry into Masters events (though this doesn't affect Cincy).

Despite the way David managed to raise his level towards the end of the second set, there were some major problems rather too visible in this match.
First of all, the serve. It's not just that once again David made far too few first serves (43% for the match). But also that whenever he found himself in a difficult situation, playing the important points that eventually decide the match, he almost always had to rely on his second serve and on the back of his second serve he didn't win enough points. However, David having problems with his serve is nothing new. And in the past, he has often enough pulled off wins despite posting atrocious numbers on serve.
But the second problem is of a much more basic and therefore devastating nature, in terms of its effects on David's game. The short and simple version: David was too slow today. Constantly a step (or more than one) late in getting to the ball and therefore not having enough time to set up his shots. Which accounted for a lot of David's many unforced errors today.
But even if he did get to the ball in time and didn't find himself under immediate pressure, David hardly ever managed to really hit through the court. With his groundstrokes often lacking pace and depth, as well as precision. (Highlights from the match you can watch here.)

Since hip surgery, David has often enough shown his ability to come back after injuries, after pauses, some of which lasted months. Still, he managed to return as if nothing had happened, as if he'd never been away. This time, the pause only lasted five weeks (and it saw him miss out on playing Davis Cup but no ATP events). And yet, watching David play today you could've thought that it was his first match in many months.
Of course there will be those who'll say that David was lazy and didn't prepare enough for these events. But the pattern that could be observed in both of his last two matches (a horrible first set followed by a better second one) seems to disprove the claim that this is merely a fitness issue.
The development that I see is that his movement has been gradually getting worse ever since his double surgery in March. The very surgery that was not only supposed put an end to further muscular injuries but also to remove previous limitations to his movement. In other words, I think that there's still something wrong with his locomotory system.

As long as David was able to always come back without difficulties after his many injuries he must've known why he was putting up with all of it, with the injuries, with being sidelined and then preparing another return. Because he could still play good and even great matches, he could still beat some high-ranked players. But in case his body no longer allows him to do that... I've said it before, I don't think that David will hang around on the Tour just for fun. Or to play qualies.

Next up for David is now Cincy, traditionally the worst of all Masters events for him. And then the US Open, where it's clear now that David won't get to enjoy the protection of being seeded. - Not exactly the easiest tournaments to try and stop this downward spiral.
And then there's also David's big goal, the Davis Cup. And the semifinal tie against Serbia, directly after the US Open. In his current form he wouldn't be able to be of much help for his team. Whether there's any chance for him to change that - Cincy and the US Open will have to tell.

Au revoir, Montréal - David loses to Wawrinka

After a for the most part rather one-sided match that only took 69 minutes (and looked a lot like David's previous defeats against Wawrinka), it's - au revoir, Montréal for David. As Stanislas Wawrinka prevailed 6-1, 6-4.
This defeat will cost David another 170 ranking points and make him lose more ground, sending him down to somewhere in the 60s.
At the same time, it's clear now that David's defeat against Blake was not just a bad day that he had. Right now, his ability to play competitive matches seems seriously in doubt...

More soon.

(Reuters/Getty Images; montage by VD)

Almost exactly one year has gone by since David's last match against Stanislas Wawrinka.
Back then, they met in the second round at Washington and David beat Wawrinka in straights. An easy win and at the same time not necessarily an expected one - after all, it was David's first victory over Wawrinka since May 2006. And the first one after a series of five consecutive defeats. The match record now: 5-3 for Wawrinka.

In the past, which is to say in those five matches in a row that he lost, there were two main problems that David had with Wawrinka's game. His serve that David couldn't seem to get a read on (with especially the first serve completely unassailable). And also his strong backhand with which, just like David, Wawrinka can dominate rallies, change directions and which he likes to play down the line. In short - Wawrinka is able to give David a taste of his own medicine.
Last year at Washington, David was able to turn the tables on him. But as there was no coverage of that match, the memory of those five losses is still fresh, or at least it still is in my mind.

Coming into this match, Wawrinka hasn't really had a great last few months (though he did well at the beginning of the season). He reached the quarterfinal at Gstaad, his previous event (on clay), but only had to win one match to get there. Apart from that, it's been early-round exits for him, recently. And it's difficult to say what kind of form Wawrinka will be in today.
Still, the much bigger question concerns David and his current form...
Today's match will give the answers.

And as it's Monday, here's the look at the rankings. With the Washington points gone, David has lost 24 places and is now ranked #51. - Outside the Top 50 but at least not too far away. For now.

Edit: Here's a short clip of David training with Nicolas Almagro, yesterday.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Masters Montréal Draw

So here's what awaits David at the Rogers Cup, a.k.a. the Masters in Montréal next week.
He has been drawn into the lower, i.e. Rafael Nadal's half and into Andy Murray's quarter:

[6] Mardy Fish (USA) vs BYE
Feliciano Lopez (ESP) vs Radek Stepanek (CZE)
[WC] Ernests Gulbis (LAT) vs Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP)
Michael Llodra (FRA) vs [11] Mikhail Youzhny (RUS)

[14] Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) vs David Nalbandian (ARG)
Albert Montañes (ESP) vs QUALIFIER
Pablo Andujar (ESP) vs Kevin Anderson (RSA)
BYE vs [4] Andy Murray (GBR)

The full draw you'll find here.

In other words, David will play his first match at the Uniprix Stadium in Montréal against Stanislas Wawrinka, currently ranked #17. A little more than a year ago, that name would've appeared even more ominous, back at a time when David had lost his last five consecutive matches against Wawrinka. Last year at Washington however, David managed to end his losing streak. Still, Wawrinka is anything but an easy match-up for David, as the past has often enough shown.

Should David make it past Wawrinka, his reward would be a second-round match against either a qualifier or Albert Montañes (currently ranked #50), who will be coming to Montréal straight from playing on clay at Kitzbühel, where reached the final today. David has won all four matches he has played against Montañes so far, dropping only one set in the process.

If David makes it to the third round, however, chances are that he'll get to face the player who ended his Washington/Toronto run last year - Andy Murray (ranked as well as seeded #4).
But first of all, it's David against his former "nemesis"...

Update (07/08)
Here's a brief clip of David, training ("Gran Willy" is Spanish for tweener, by the way.)
Plus a pic of David on the practice court.
Edit: And a whole gallery of David, training (shirtless) here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mission Impossible... David bows out to Blake

This match was supposed to be the start of David's "mission" of trying to defend his Washington title. Now it has not only become the first comeback match after an injury that David has lost since hip surgery. This match and his defeat will also see David drop out of the Top 50 and practically lose his chance of being seeded at the US Open.
In other words, it was a painful defeat that David suffered last night. And a costly one.

After having held serve easily in the opening game, David had the chance to break serve at 1-0. But James Blake held serve for 1-1 - and then, seemingly from out of nowhere, David's game and especially his serve simply collapsed. Making only 31% first serves in this set and winning only 33% of his second serves (on which he had to almost exclusively rely in the important moments), David got broken twice and eventually lost the first set 6-2.
In the opening game of the second, David immediately lost his serve again and although he managed to make the match more competitive in this set and also managed to stabilise his serve, he was unable to retrieve the early break. And in the end, this one break was enough for Blake to take the second set 6-4, putting a premature end to David's Washington campaign.
That's my very brief summary of this match. Here is David's, it's the only quote from him that I've been able to find:
My serve didn't work very good in the beginning. It was tough. Second set I served better but a little late. I was OK. I just need matches to be in good shape again.
There was a lot at stake in this match, most of all those 500 ranking points from winning the title last year. Now that those 500 points will be gone on Monday, there's going to be a lot at stake in each and every match that David will play in the coming weeks. Even if it'll mostly be about trying to cut his losses.
Next week, David will be ranked in the mid-50s. But even to just stay there, in the mid-50s, he'll have to match his results from last year. Therefore anything less than a quarterfinal and a third round at Montréal and Cincy will see David lose further points - and even more ground in the rankings. Here it should be noted that David won't be seeded, neither at Montréal, nor at Cincy. - And almost certainly also not at the US Open, which would require a ranking in the upper or mid-30s.
Before the start of the US hardcourt swing, David said that his main focus would be on getting in shape. For the US Open and for the Davis Cup semifinal. Whether last night's match has been indicative of his current shape or whether it was simply a bad day that David had on court - we'll have to wait and see.
(photo: Matthew Stockman/AFP/Getty Images)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Washington R2 - David vs James Blake

(Nick Wass/AP Photo)

Update II
David's quest to defend his Washington title has ended before it really began - with a defeat at the hands of James Blake, who won 6-2, 6-4. In a match that only took 72 minutes, David's game and especially his serve fell apart completely from 1-1 on in the first set. And while in the second set, David apparently managed to consolidate his game at least a little bit, the break that James Blake secured early on in the second proved to be enough to win the match.

This defeat and the resulting loss of those 500 ranking points from last year will see David drop down to around #55 next week.

Some photos from the match now on the Photo Page.

More tomorrow...

(Getty Images; montage by VD)

38 days after his last match in the third round at Wimbledon, and after missing out on the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie because of the adductor problems he picked up during that match, today it's time for David to make another comeback. And not surprisingly, this comeback match will be against James Blake, who didn't have any difficulties, beating Tatsuma Ito 6-3, 6-3 in the first round yesterday.

Question - what do David and James Blake have in common? First of all, they've both won this tournament before, even though it's almost a decade that lies between David's victory last year and Blake's back in 2002 (his first title on the Tour). But that's not where the similarities end.
Just like David, James Blake, aged 31 by now, has had his share of injury problems and pauses recently. And therefore, when the two of them walk on court tonight, for both of them it'll only be the 20th ATP match they get to play this season.
But whereas David has a quarterfinal and a final to his name this year, Blake, currently ranked #90, hasn't made it past the third round at any of the ATP-level tournaments he has played (with his best results having come at Challenger events).

The only previous encounter between David and James Blake took place almost five years ago, in the semifinal of the Masters Cup in Shanghai, 2006 (Andvari's highlights of that match you can watch here). Back then, David was also the defending champion and back then he ended up losing convincingly to Blake, who managed to to control the rallies with very aggressive play from the baseline and also punished David for his weak serving. Still - that was almost five years ago. Five years that seem to have taken an even bigger toll on James Blake than they have on David. And apart from that, there's David's special record: Ever since hip surgery he has never lost any of his (by now several) comeback matches.

But whatever today's match will look like - we won't get to see it. As once more it's: no coverage, only the scoreboard.

Here are some photos of David, training.
Edit: The AAT has now confirmed that the Davis Cup semifinal (September 16-18) will be held at the Belgrade Arena, on an "acrylic" surface, similar to the one that was used at Mar del Plata.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ready To Go...

As the clip above shows, David (ranked #27 as of this week) has by now arrived in Washington and he has started training at the tournament venue, the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. This video is the first one in a series of altogether seven short clips of David practicing. The others you can watch here: part two, part three, part four, part five, part six and part seven.
And as far as it's possible to tell these clips seem to support David's statement that was released via the official site and its extensions:
I've been training hard to return to the circuit and to play this tournament. I'm very fit and happy to play in Washington again, where I won the title last year. I hope to have a good tournament and then to go on preparing for the US Open and Davis Cup semifinal.
Tonight, not before 7pm local time, David's first opponent at Washington this year will be decided in the match between James Blake and Tatsuma Ito. And as this match takes place today, David might already get to play on Tuesday (and if that's not the case then definitely on Wednesday).

Edit: Three more clips of David, training at Washington, from the same series as above:
part eight, part nine and part ten.

Here's a little something to pass the time until David's first match, a recent interview with David, only just discovered & translated - and worth the read. You'll find it in this backdated post:
David: I'm not yet thinking about the End.