Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Interview with David

It's still a few days until the start of Tokyo. So here's something to pass the time: an interview with David. From back home in Unquillo (where he still is at the moment - but not for much longer) he talked on the phone to Argentine station AM 630 ESPN Radio. And of course, the biggest topic still is - and will remain to be until December - the Davis Cup. One more thing, from the weekdays he mentions, it can be deduced that the interview was recorded at the end of last week. At least I'd hope so - otherwise he'd be a week late with his departure for Tokyo...
Here's what David had to say:
I'm very happy and I'm doing very well. The tie in Serbia was a very good and positive one in every way. In the life of a tennis player, everything happens very fast. There's no time for a lot of analysis of the matches and things. Luckily, we won and we are in the Davis Cup final. Now let's enjoy that and think about the tie in December.

The team is doing very well. We played a good tie, Serbia was the favourite. On clay we are very strong, compared to the rest of the world. But in sports, anything can happen. We have to try and do the best we can. The Spanish team is better than we are on this kind of surface but we mustn't lose hope.
Confronted with an opponent as strong as Spain, the Argentine team will have to plan its moves very carefully, something that David already mentioned in the previous interview. In the past, and under other captains, it wasn't always so very clear who made those plans and decisions. But apparently, that's different now:
The ideal is to win three points. How we have to form the team to be able to do that, I don't know... Tito always nominates those he thinks have been playing well or are playing well. As far as I'm concerned, he never consulted me. That's the job of the captain. I don't know what his plans will be for the tie in December. We have to find the best solution for all five rubbers. Our doubles, whoever is going to play, will be better than they can be indoors. The doubles is a key rubber and our aim has got to be to win it.
Right now, it looks like the final will be held either in Valencia or in Sevilla and if it's Valencia then it will be played indoors (though not at the tournament venue).
[Update (29/09) Whether it's going to be Valencia or Sevilla will be announced on October 7.]
But who can win the doubles against Spain's Lopez and Verdasco? In the Argentine media, some have called for the formation of a special doubles pair - David playing with Del Potro...
I've played doubles with Juan Martin one single time in the US [Indian Wells 2009]. I think we played well. Apart from some training we haven't played together more than that. It would be ideal for Argentina to have a fixed doubles and that the singles players get to rest on Saturday. Playing on all three days is extremely tough, it's grueling. I did that many years and I paid the price for it. I'm no longer 23. We have to wait until December, see who's in the best form by then and we need to have a fixed doubles so that we can be competitive wherever we play.
It sounds like David has indeed said goodbye to the idea of playing on all three days, that he has realised that this is the kind of strain his body can no longer put up with.
And while previously, David didn't seem to be aware that Del Potro still has a good chance to qualify for the World Tour Final, he knows by now.
I hope that Juan Martin can qualify for the Masters [World Tour Final] and that he can play his best.
Back in 2008, Del Potro's decision to play the Masters Cup in Shanghai (despite not being fully fit) was the cause of much turmoil - let's put it this way. This time, however, David seems determined not to dwell on it (or on the past in general) but to look ahead.
I haven't played much on clay but Juan Martin is a bit faster [at adapting to playing on it]. It's a tough tie. On paper, they've always been a little better [than us]. Now you have to go there, to fight and do your best.

You try to always learn. With bad results there's a lot more to analyse and the victories cover things up. The team is doing very well, that's the way foward. Argentina has a very strong team and we have to make the most out of that.
Meanwhile, and maybe you've heard about it, several players (including Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray) have voiced complaints about the calendar, called for the players to form their own union and also mentioned the possibility of going on strike. I'm not sure if David is aware of these developments but he agrees that life as a tennis player is tough - though he comes to a different conclusion.
Being a tennis player is not easy. You get only very few days off. I arrived here [in Unquillo] after the Davis Cup on Tuesday [last week] and Thursday next week [i.e. tomorrow] I'm going to travel to Asia for the tournaments there. You get to spend very few days at your home and don't have time for a lot of things. It's not easy but it's all for a good and beautiful cause and that's what this sport is. That's why you have to deal with these things the best way you can.
And there are still several tournaments to think of, ahead of the Davis Cup final in December. But how many exactly? I've been able to map out most of David's schedule for the rest of the season (confirmed now by the official site, which has, believe it or not, been updated). Here's what David has to say about his plans:
I'm going to Asia where I'll play two tournaments. After that I'm going to play the indoor events and I'm thinking about returning [to Argentina] in the first week of November to train on clay. I don't know how the weather is in Spain at that time. The best would be to try and have some good training sessions there. It also depends a lot on when I'm going to finish the indoor swing and how much I can train here, in Buenos Aires.
Now, returning to Argentina in early November would mean not playing the Masters event in Paris. The entry list for it came out last night and his name is on it but as an alternate. That he doesn't seem to be sure when the indoor swing will end for him could mean that he doesn't know yet whether or not he'll get a wildcard. And that, if he doesn't get one, he might skip the Paris Masters to train on clay instead.
Apart from the Davis Cup, I'm having a very good year to build on and to analyse how I'm going to finish it. Little by little I'm getting better and better. I'm feeling good and comfortable and without injuries, which is what affected me the last time.
That's one way of putting it. Back in 2008, directly before the final at Mar del Plata, David's hip injury got so bad that the advice from his doctors was to have surgery. This time, hopefully, he'll get to play without injury troubles. As it could be his last chance to win the title that he wants more than anything else - or maybe not?
I don't think that it's going to be my last chance to win the Davis Cup. I still have one or two years left of my career. Next year we're going to have plenty of chances because we'll have many home ties. It's a very good schedule. 2013 could also be a year with a good Davis Cup schedule.
- And it could be another good year for David.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Look ahead at the Tournaments in Asia

Almost exactly one year ago I wrote a preview post about David going to Asia to play Tokyo and the Shanghai Masters. But you won't find it anywhere here on VD - I had to replace it with a post about David, pulling out of these events. At first, it seemed like he simply couldn't be bothered to undertake the trip to Asia. Then, in a later interview, David confessed that he felt completely exhausted after the US hardcourt swing (and probably also very much frustrated after the lost Davis Cup semifinal against France).
This year the situation is a very different one. David played only 7 matches at the US hardcourt events (compared to 16, last season). And then there's of course the Davis Cup final, which is not only the reason that arrived back home, David immediately took up training in double shifts again to prepare for the rest of the season (source). It also means that every match he gets to play from now on is important as preparation for the final in December.
And here's where those preparations will begin:

Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 500, Tokyo (October 3-9)
(Getty Images)

Seven years have gone by since David's last (and also only) appearance at this tournament. And it was a fairly brief one, he went out in the second round against Gilles Muller. Back then, in the autumn of 2004, David's first ever trip to Asia saw him playing Beijing and Tokyo (held during different weeks at the time). It was the only occasion in his career where he played two events in Asia between the US Open and the indoor swing, pulling out of Tokyo the following year and then from 2006 on skipping the Asian events altogether. - Until now.
That Tokyo is a 500 event has its advantages for David, as the so-called "Commitment Player Entry Exception" has granted him direct acceptance into the main draw. But for us, there are also the typical disadvantages that you get with a tournament of this category. In other words, once again there will be no coverage during the early rounds.
The draw will take place a week from now, on Saturday, October 1.
Top on the entry list: Nadal, Murray, Ferrer, Fish and Troicki.

Shanghai Rolex Masters 1000, Shanghai (October 9-16)
(Getty Images)

At Shanghai's Qi Zhong Stadium, pictured here with its retractable roof open wide, David played the most memorable match of his career, the one he's still the most proud of. Back in 2005, it was here that he beat Roger Federer in the Masters Cup final (fifth-set highlights here). So for David, playing the Shanghai Masters means returning to the scene of his biggest triumph - and yet, at the same time it's also going to be a premiere, as he has never played this particular event before. But his past appearances at the Masters Cup (2005 and 2006) have apparently not been forgotten as David will receive a wildcard for this tournament. At least, that's what I've been hearing, though this hasn't been officially confirmed yet. (Without a wildcard, he would have to play qualies.)
As it's a Masters event, everybody is going to be there. Theoretically at least. Federer and Söderling have already withdrawn, others (for example Djokovic) could follow.

P.S. When he's in Shanghai, perhaps David will finally get to see his terracotta warrior.
Though whether he'll be able to recognise himself - I'm not so sure...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Davis Cup Draw 2012


Another Davis Cup tradition: As soon as the finalists for the current year have been decided (they will be the two top-seeded teams next season), it's already time for the draw for the next year.
Today, the draw for the Davis Cup 2012 took place in Bangkok, with Argentina as the second seed behind Spain, due to Spain's higher Davis Cup ranking.
And here's what Argentina's half, the bottom one of the draw, looks like (* indicates home team):

Italy vs Czech Republic*

Sweden vs Serbia*

Japan* vs Croatia

Germany* vs Argentina

So Argentina will begin the 2012 Davis Cup season with an away tie against Germany, which will be played from February 10 to12 and definitely indoors (as mid-February is not the kind of date where you could even think about playing outdoors in Germany). And I wouldn't be surprised if the German team chose clay as the surface.
Afterwards, in the quarterfinal, Argentina could meet Croatia (home tie for Argentina) before in the semifinal another clash with Serbia might await - only that this time it would take place at the Parque Roca.

(José Hernández/MundoD)
Here's the latest interview with David. Only just arrived back in Argentina, he talked to Fabián Sacarelli (for MundoD) about, you've guessed it, the Davis Cup:
Q: Based on past experiences, what are the mistakes that shouldn't be made in this final?

David: I don't know what mistakes. That's something where it's very difficult to put your finger on it. We have to focus on being in the best possible shape for that weekend. We'll have several days to train on clay and that's good for us. And we're doing fine as a team. You have to work as best as you can and get there in top shape. I don't think it's that much of a mystery.

Q: It's difficult to believe that another final against Spain won't be seen as a chance to avenge the lost final of 2008.

David: Different situations and different times, in every way. Spain at home is an extremely tough and difficult opponent. And Rafa is the best player ever on clay. We have to try and think about having a good weekend. That's what we did in Serbia and there, it all went very well.

Q: Which differences do you see between the commitment of this team and the one in 2008?

David: It's all very different, there was a different coaching staff back then. With this tie, there were Juan Martin and me and the relationship has improved a lot. That's good for us and for the team. Apart from that, this time we only have to "rise to the occasion", we don't have to pick a venue, or the balls, or the surface.

Q: What was the key to beating a team that seemed unbeatable because of Djokovic?

David: We all played well and won the points we needed to win. I think it's as simple as that. We were able to capitalise on Djokovic not playing on Friday and I beat Troicki so we had a 2-0 lead and Del Potro played an incredible match against Novak. It was really a very tough tie.

Q: You've reached your third Davis Cup final, is this one going to be it?

David: I don't look at statistics but I'm happy to have reached my third final. And what the stats don't say, winning the Davis Cup is not easy. Therefore we haven't made it. I'm happy for the team, we've worked very hard and Argentine tennis deserves those three finals I've made and the other one with Vilas and Clerc [lost to USA, 1981]. Throughout the history [of Argentine tennis] we had the players and the results to earn it.

Q: What do you think the final is going to be like?

David: I think that out of my three finals, this is going to be the most difficult one, by far. It's still two and half months to go until then and many things can happen. It's a very difficult tie, one that you have to approach with a lot of "engineering". We have to concentrate on those rubbers where we have the best chances.

Q: How do you approach it with "a lot of engineering"?

David: We have to win three points and our aim has to be that everyone believes in their chance to win. We know that those two rubbers  Ferrer will play and the doubles are theoretically going to be where Spain will be the most vulnerable. But we'll have to see. I like playing against Rafa and against Ferrer it's going to be an extremely tough match. I'm relaxed, I know that I can win and I can lose. Those will be five very close matches.

Q: There are no ATP tournaments left to play on clay. What's the preparation going to look like?

David: Fortunately, for us the season is going to end two weeks before the Davis Cup final and during those weeks we'll prepare on clay. Rafa and Ferrer are definitely going to play the Masters [World Tour Final] and are going to start playing on clay much later. But still, we know how strong the Spanish team is on this surface.

Q: What would you give to win the Davis Cup?

David: I give everything for the Davis Cup and I let it show in each point I play, in every match. My big goal is to win it and hopefully I'll be able to do it this time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Back Home

After Argentina's victory over Serbia in the Davis Cup semifinal, David arrived back home in Argentina yesterday for a well-deserved break ahead of the tournaments in Asia (Tokyo and the Shanghai Masters). Though he didn't get very far before the media caught up with him at Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, as you can see in the clip above. Here's a summary of what he told the assembled press.

The semifinal
It was a difficult tie, Serbia won last year and Djokovic is the no.1. It was a spectacular tie for them, they all worked hard during the week to be in top shape for it. They all gave their best in each of the matches and Delpo was impressive. It's a shame that Novak got injured, Delpo was playing well and would've probably won the match also without that happening. They all did their best to win, it worked out and he's very happy.

The importance of winning the first rubber
How important it was for Delpo they'd have to ask him but he has played both the first and the second rubber before and it's not the same, going into it with 1-0 lead or trailing 0-1. They knew they had to make the most out of Djokovic not playing on Friday. And Troicki is a great player but playing against him is not the same, though it was a tough match. Still, that increased their chances and their hopes and in the end, they were able to capitalise on it.

The final against Spain
Spain is an extremely tough opponent to face in an away tie, it's going to be very difficult. And it means playing against Rafa on clay. Those will be five matches where anything can happen. They'll have to try and be in the best possible shape for that tie, try to give their best as always to get the best possible result. Clay is not his favourite surface. It's going to be tough.

(José Hernández/MundoD)

The doubles
The doubles rubber has always been Argentina's weakness. It will be extremely important in the final because it can tip the scale either way. Right now, they don't really have a fixed doubles but it would be good for the singles players to rest on Saturday. Currently there are not many Argentine doubles specialists but they're going to play on clay and there, their doubles team [Schwank & Chela] has done well before.

The current form
After his return at Washington he got better with each day. At the US Open he already played much better and this weekend, his level was even a bit better than at the US Open. He'll try to continue improving until December. Right now, he feels very good

In other news, and as has been mentioned in the comments, David has moved up 11 places in the rankings this week (thanks to his win against Troicki) and is now ranked #63. At Tokyo and Shanghai he won't have any points to defend (having missed that part of the season last year), a chance for him to move further up again.

And now for something completely different: David is not going to play Basel this year.
Instead, his name is on the entry list for Valencia (same week, October 31 - November 6).

Edit: A last look back at the semifinal weekend, courtesy of the official Davis Cup site.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Argentina Makes the Davis Cup Final

It could've turned into an epic, this last day of the Davis Cup semifinal at Belgrade. And it could have been another one of those ties where in the end, everything depends on David, playing the decisive fifth rubber. But today, the decision came prematurely, an hour and 32 minutes into the fourth rubber between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro. At 7-6(5), 3-0 for Del Potro, Djokovic had to retire with an injury. An abrupt and unfortunate end for this tie. But for Argentina the decisive third point and a place in this year's Davis Cup final against Spain (December 2-4), which will take place in Spain and on clay.

It was a gamble that the Serbian team took with Djokovic playing this match. After having arrived at Belgrade only on Thursday and carrying the injury that flared up again today (source). But with Serbia down 2-1 and merely one defeat away from losing the tie, the team thought that he'd have a better chance to beat Del Potro than Troicki, despite not being fully fit. A fateful miscalculation.
At the same time, Djokovic's injury spared David having to play a live fifth rubber. And although he would've certainly liked to clinch the tie for his team, perhaps it's better that it didn't come to this. As according to Fue Buena, quoting Tito Vázquez, David still hasn't completely recovered from "that problem with his neck" (which occurred during his match against Troicki).

Already during the first set today, Djokovic repeatedly showed signs of being in pain and received treatment during changeovers. A very difficult situation for him - but also for Juan Martin Del Potro, playing against an obviously ailing opponent. Watching the match, I was impressed with the way Delpo kept his focus and also with how well he played. And I was not the only one:
It was incredible. I watched it all in the locker room. How I suffered...  Juan Martin had chances because he served very well. For Djokovic it got more and more difficult. He [Delpo] played an unbelievable match, basically perfect. Luckily, he won because we came here with the dream of making it.
(Juan Foglia/Clarin)
And now, they have made it. Another Davis Cup final for Argentina, the fourth one in total. And the third one for David, after 2006 (where he won his two rubbers against Russia in Moscow but the other three were lost) and, of course, the notorious final at Mar del Plata 2008. That year, it was also Delpo who won the decisive rubber for Argentina in the semifinal (against Russia). Before what was supposed to be Argentina's unique chance of finally winning the Davis Cup, at home and against a Spanish team without Rafael Nadal, turned into a battle among the Argentine players.
Back then, they went into the final as the favourites to win the title. This time, with the final taking place in Spain and on clay, they're going to be the underdogs, especially if Rafael Nadal is going to be there. But perhaps, that can also be their chance.

Finally, here's an interview with David after Del Potro's victory:

First comes the part I've quoted above, about having watched the match in the locker room. Then: Another final for him. It gets more difficult each time. So now they'll have to travel to Spain at the end of the year.
He's happy about the way the whole week went, about the work they did. He thinks that everybody gave everything in all of the matches. They were expecting a very tough day today, a very close one, but Delpo managed to get the last point. Though it's a shame, the way it happened with Djokovic's injury.
Asked whether he has to change his travel plans (now that he'll have a shorter off-season) - the final changes his schedule. But he's happy and right now it's time to enjoy the victory.

Davis Cup Semifinal - Day 3: Argentina in the Final

(Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

We all wanted it to happen - but not like this. At 7-6(5), 3-0 for Del Potro, Novak Djokovic collapsed on court with a scream of pain after hitting a forehand. After lying on the court for a couple of minutes, he decided to retire, granting Argentina the third point and a place in this year's final (December 2-4), where they will meet Spain. It's going to be another away tie for Argentina.
Whether David will play the fifth, dead rubber - I don't think so.
Edit: Juan Monaco will play the fifth rubber for Argentina against - Tipsarevic, after all.

More soon.

It's day three at the Belgrade Arena, time for the big showdown. Going into today's reverse singles, Argentina still has a 2-1 lead and needs only one more point for a place in this year's Davis Cup final. But with the world no.1 taking to the court today, the tie could go down to a decisive fifth rubber. And it could once again fall to David to try and clinch the tie for Argentina.
But first of all:

Fourth rubber
Novak Djokovic vs Juan Martin Del Potro
It's a one-sided record that Del Potro has against Djokovic. Four matches, four defeats. But with this particular match, Del Potro's chances are going to depend on how well Djokovic will be able to play, given the circumstances. He arrived at Belgrade practically at the last minute and has only done some very light training since the US Open final. And apparently, from what I've read, he does have some problems with his back. But all of that could be forgotten, playing Davis Cup in front of his home crowd. In short, if Djokovic can manage to play at (or near) the kind of level he has shown throughout this season then Del Potro will be in serious trouble.
And if he loses this match then it'll be up to David...

(Marko Drobnjakovic/AP Photo)
Fifth rubber
Janko Tipsarevic vs David
They 've met only once and that was a while ago, at the Australian Open 2007. But if that match is anything to go by then we could be in for a ride. Back then, David had to save match points in the third set before eventually, Tipsarevic retired early on in the fifth (due to problems with the heat). Now, almost five years later, they meet again to play a best-of-five match. And it's going to be a battle of the Davis Cup veterans. With Tipsarevic having contested even more matches than David (49 to 43), though David has the better record in singles (22-5 to Tipsarevic's 28-12). Both have plenty of experience and they both know what it's like to play the decider and clinch the tie for their team.
Compared to Troicki, Tipsarevic will give David more rhythm during the rallies but his better defense, his backhand and also his serve (difficult to read because of his very low ball toss) could make this match a lot more difficult for David than his first one. What might also be a factor in this match is that Tipsarevic had problems with his ankle against Del Potro on Friday. Whether pulling out of the doubles yesterday was merely a precaution or a bit more than that remains to be seen. - As well as whether David will, hopefully, be able to play again like he did on Friday.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Davis Cup Semifinal - Day 2

A clip of Djokovic, David and Del Potro training today:

(Marko Drobnjakovic/AP Photo)

Juan Ignacio Chela and Juan Monaco have lost the doubles rubber against Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic, who prevailed 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-2.
So the tie will be decided in the reverse singles tomorrow. First up at 2pm local time: Juan Martin Del Potro against Novak Djokovic. And then, in what could very well be the decisive fifth rubber, David against Janko Tipsarevic.

Meanwhile in Cordoba, Spain's Lopez/Verdasco lost the doubles against Llodra/Tsonga. Which, after day two of the semifinals, leaves both Argentina and Spain with a 2-1 lead.

(Getty Images)

After David and Juan Martin Del Potro did a great job yesterday, getting a 2-0 lead for Argentina, today it's time for Juan Ignacio Chela and Juan Monaco to take to the court at the Belgrade Arena. Time for the doubles rubber.
According to the draw, they were scheduled to face Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic. But Tipsarevic had problems with his ankle during the match against Del Potro yesterday. And today, Zimonjic practiced with Viktor Troicki (source).
Edit: It has just been confirmed - Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic will play for Serbia.
So there's going to be another last-minute change to Serbia's line-up. Not the worst thing that could've happened, as far as the Argentine team is concerned (though Troicki and Zimonjic have played doubles together in Davis Cup before).
Can "El Torino" and "Pico" perhaps seal the deal for Argentina already today? We'll find out.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Davis Cup Semifinal Day 1 - Review

There are two versions of the tennis player David Nalbandian. One for the ATP events and the Slams and the other one we get to see in Davis Cup. And while other players may struggle with the pressure of playing for their team and country and not just for themselves (and even more so during away ties) the exact opposite applies for David. Give him a Davis Cup semifinal, an away tie, and David goes and plays his best match of the season. Securing the first point for Argentina with his 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Viktor Troicki.
Afterwards, Juan Martin Del Potro extended Argentina's lead to 2-0 by beating Janko Tipsarevic.

After going down a break early on in the first set, David levelled the score at 3-3. Having saved break points in the following game, David held serve brefore breaking Troicki again as the Serb served to stay in the set. The second set saw a series of easy holds from both, with David the more dominant player until a poor game at 4-4 cost him his serve and eventually the set. At the beginning of the third, Troicki returned the favour and dropped his serve before once again, David broke as Troicki was serving to stay in the set. The fourth set began exactly like the third, with David going up an immediate break. After getting the double break for a 5-1 lead, David served for the match and got broken before eventually closing out the match on the second attempt and this time to love.
(Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

That is, in radically short form, what happened during this match. But the real story of this match is a different one. And it's about David, playing a smart, solid and simply very good match. During his latest matches, and especially against Nadal at the US Open, there were some flashes of David, playing the tactical and effective tennis he's capable of. Only the he wasn't able to keep it up. With this match, he did. From the first set through to the fourth, David moved well and played well, and he also kept his focus, never losing track after getting broken (or when there were suddenly noises coming over the PA when he was break point down; he saved it). And it's been a while since David was able to play as aggressively, and consistently so, as he did today.

A word about the almost 14-minute service game that David played at 3-1 in the fourth set. As he mentions in the clip below, he did something to his neck during that game and it bothered him afterwards. Maybe it also affected him as he served for the match for the first time. As it was only after receiving a massage from one of the team's physios that he eventually served out the match to love.

So, after the first day, Argentina has a 2-0 lead. Time to have a look at the other semifinal, Spain vs France. In the course of the first two matches today, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon managed to get a combined total of 10 games against Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer. There seems to be no way of stopping Spain on the way to the final. But can Argentina get there - we'll see.

Finally, here's the interview David gave to TyC Sports, directly after his victory.
(Edit: And here you can watch the video version of yesterday's audio interview for

He knew (around 30 minutes before the match as he said elsewhere) that he'd play Troicki instead of Djokovic. The second set was up and down, he had the chance to win it but couldn't take it. But all in all he thinks he played a great match and it was important to win the first point for Argentina. Hopefully they can build on that.
He knew that Viktor is a great server and there were games where they didn't get to play a lot of tennis. He had to stay patient and wait for the right moment and he thinks he did that well in this match and fortunately it all worked out.
Winning the first point is very important, now they can be more relaxed. He took the first step, now they have to go on, play and win points, hopefully they can go up 2-0, that would be great.
He did something to his neck, some bad movement (at 3-1 in the fourth set) and it bothered him after that but he pulled through and he's happy. He always has the support of his people from Unquillo and he thanks them for it, as well as all of Argentina.

Davis Cup Semifinal - Day 1

(Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)

David has won the first point for Argentina, defeating Viktor Troicki 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in two hours and 47 minutes. I've said it before, there are two versions of David Nalbandian. And today, we got to see "Davis Cup David" again. It's been a while since he played that well - throughout the match.

A post-match interview with David here. Photos on the Photo Page. Links for the recording (courtesy of Krystle, thanks) are now available on David on Screen.

Edit: In the second rubber Delpo beat Janko Tipsarevic 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
After the first day, Argentina leads 2-0.


It's day one of the Davis Cup semifinal Serbia vs Argentina at the Belgrade Arena - time for the first two singles rubbers. And for something we haven't seen in a while. For the first time since the lost final at Mar del Plata 2008, Argentina's line-up for the first day consists of the two gentlemen pictured above, David and Juan Martin Del Potro. (Here's a pic of them, training today.)
It's official now and confirmed by the AAT: Novak Djokovic has pulled out of today's match.
Instead, David will face Viktor Troicki.

So here's what's ahead today (more about the match-ups in the previous post):

First rubber
Viktor Troicki vs David

Second rubber
Janko Tipsarevic vs Juan Martin Del Potro

Davis cup madness - here we come...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Davis Cup Semifinal - The Draw


Today, the court at the Belgrade Arena not only functioned as training site for both teams. It was also right there, on the court, that the draw ceremony took place. And here's what came out of it:

Friday (play starts 3pm local)
Novak Djokovic vs David Nalbandian
Janko Tipsarevic vs Juan Martin Del Potro

Saturday (play starts 3pm local)
Janko Tipsarevic & Nenad Zimonjic vs Juan Ignacio Chela & Juan Monaco

Sunday (play starts 2pm local)
Novak Djokovic vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Janko Tipsarevic vs David Nalbandian

The first thing that catches the eye is of course Djokovic's name next to David's for the first match on Friday. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that Djokovic will actually play tomorrow. Serbia's captain Obradovic still has the chance, up until the very last minute basically, to replace him with Viktor Troicki, in case Djokovic doesn't feel ready to play the match, after all. A decision that he will make tomorrow (and he could still play on the other days if he pulls out of this match). So it's actually not clear yet who will be David's opponent. Still, here's a look at Friday's matches.

Novak Djokovic or Viktor Troicki vs David Nalbandian
There's been one occasion where David was able to beat Djokovic. And not surprisingly perhaps, that was at the Madrid Masters, back in 2007. The other four times they've met, however, it was Djokovic who prevailed, and convincingly so. But although it's usually David whose physical condition is in doubt, with this match it's different. After winning the US Open on Monday, Djokovic only arrived at Belgrade today and has had practically no time to recuperate, adjust or prepare. And if he plays tomorrow - that would be David's chance. Against an otherwise almost invincible Djokovic, who's also a bad match-up for him (with his excellent defense, return game and also a serve that David had his problems with in the past).
Against Viktor Troicki on the other hand, David has a positive match record, having won three of their four encounters so far (the most recent one took place at Miami last year). This season, Troicki has moved up higher in the rankings than ever before in his career (currently #16) but except for the quarterfinal he made at Washington his results haven't been too good of late. And apart from that, he's not as experienced as the rest of his team when it comes to playing Davis Cup.

Janko Tipsarevic vs Juan Martin Del Potro
The match record favours Del Potro, they've met twice so far (most recently in this year's final at Delray Beach) and both times Del Potro won in straights. The current form, however, favours Tipsarevic, whose results during the US hardcourt swing have propelled him to #13, higher than he's ever been ranked before. Apart from that, Tipsarevic (who trained without any apparent difficulties this week, after retiring at the US Open) is the far more experienced Davis Cup player (48 matches to Del Potro's 9). In the past, Del Potro had little difficulty with Tipsarevic and with his serve and his forehand he possesses the much bigger weapons. But under the circumstances, against an in-form Tipsarevic playing in front of his home crowd, he will need to put those weapons to good and above all consistent use.

Finally, after the draw ceremony David talked to TyC Sports, the Argentine TV channel that broadcasts the Davis Cup. Here's the clip:

And here's a brief summary of what he says in it:
He knows both of them (Djokovic and Troicki) and it's not going to change anything about his preparations or his way of thinking about the match, he has to be ready to deal with either of the two. They (the Argentine team) have to try and focus on themselves. After the tie they'll do a review of everything on Monday. He thinks there's a fair chance that Djokovic won't play. And if he plays that he's going to be tired and then it'll be about trying to exploit that. All five points will be extremely tough, they'll have a chance in all of the matches as they have a strong team. They have to fight in every match and win the tie
He feels good, better. He feels that he has improved during the week. They thought the surface would be faster but he's fine with it, the way it is. It's a court that meets the requirements set by the ITF and it was always going to be a tough tie, no matter on what kind of surface. Each of them has to try and win their points, to do the best they can from Friday through to Sunday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday Training and Official Dinner

According to Fue Buena, David will play singles on Friday, whether Djokovic will be there or no.

The training sessions at the Belgrade Arena continued today, this time with Juan Monaco and Juan Ignacio Chela putting in an intense round of doubles practice. A possible sign that David will play singles on Friday? Perhaps, but right now this is all still merely speculation.
Meanwhile, the Serbian team held its press conference today. Postponed by one day, obviously in the hope of being able to present the full squad to the local media. But the team had to make do without the big star and Serbia's captain Bogdan Obradovic told the press that he didn't know whether Novak Djokovic will join them in the evening or for practice, tomorrow morning. And whether Djokovic will be ready to play on Friday or whether he'll make his first appearance in the doubles on Saturday is also still unclear.

Apart from that, it was time for the (also traditional) official dinner tonight. Those usually take place at more or less fancy restaurants. Far away from tennis courts. But not this time. Tonight's dinner took place at Djokovic's club the "Novak Tennis Center" (home of the Belgrade Open), at the club's restaurant, overlooking the courts. Where "rookie" Andrés Molteni had to deliver a speech (another tradition; see pic below) and apparently, a good time was had by all.
- Before getting down to business and discussing the exact line-up and strategy, ahead of the draw ceremony tomorrow. I won't be here during the day but I'll post all about the draw and the match-ups as soon as I can.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Press Conference Day in Belgrade

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Usually, the traditional Tuesday press conference in Davis Cup is there for questions and answers about the upcoming tie and the preparations. In this case, it was also about how the team spent the night before - in front of the TV, watching the US Open final and, as they confessed, marvelling at the level of play, displayed by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The new US Open champion who will, there can be no doubt, be given a hero's welcome at the Belgrade Arena.
After the final, Djokovic promised that he will be part of the team. But when he's going to play - that's still the big question. And one that the Argentine team's strategy is expected to depend on. In short, should Djokovic play on Friday then Vázquez would probably put Juan Monaco against him, with David playing the doubles and what could be the deciding singles on Sunday. Whereas if Djokovic doesn't play on Friday and gets replaced by Viktor Troicki, then David would probably play on Friday and face Troicki. Right now, the second option seems more likely, also because of the back problems Djokovic had during the US Open final. But what would that mean for David, playing two singles or even playing on all three days?
(Marko Drobnjakovic/AP Photo)
I'm not ready to play on all three days. I think the idea of the coaches was to have a fixed doubles so that the singles players can get some rest. 
Which doesn't really sound like David is particularly keen on playing the doubles but would rather play two singles. And right now, the doubles line-up still is a complete mystery. But at least both David and Del Potro used the press conference as an opportunity to try and dispel the latest reports about differences between them.
I'm glad that we're all here together. With the two of us at a good level we're competitive and tough for every opponent.
Serbia is the favourite but we have the team to give them a good scare. 
Or in Del Potro's words, who described being together on the team with David as "good" and "nice":
My idea is to play the two singles. Fortunately, we're all here together. (Source.)
Apart from that,and already before the press conference, Juan Ignacio Chela delivered the team's verdict on the surface chosen by the Serbs - slower than expected and with a low bounce but in general the Argentine team is "content" with it (source).

Last but not at all least - apart from doubles practice (David with Chela against Del Potro and Monaco), today's session also finally saw David and Juan Martin Del Potro training together:

More clips here, here, here and here. More photos on the Photo Page.

Monday, September 12, 2011

And Welcome to the Belgrade Arena

Fresh in from the AAT - a look at David's first practice at the Belgrade Arena, where he trained together with Juan Ignacio Chela (first it was Juan Monaco's and Juan Martin Del Potro's turn). Another clip you can watch here.
It was the first of the Argentine team's two practice sessions at the venue for the day with the second one due later, in the early evening.

So far, there's been photos (more on the Photo Page) and videos but no statements from anybody on the team. Something that will change tomorrow when it'll be time for the traditional round of press conferences.

Second session - same scenario again. David trained with Chela, Del Potro with Monaco. This may be their reunion on the team but according to Danny Miche (who was courtside), there's no communication between David and Del Potro. He even went as far as tweeting that their relationship seems worse than the (infamous) one between Vilas and Clerc in the 80s. A very harsh comparison to make (see post). Let's hope it's not really that bad...
Edit (13/09): At least they're playing football-tennis together, though on different sides of the net.

(Aníbal Greco/La Nacion)

(Juan Foglia/Clarin)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Welcome to Belgrade

Update (11/09)

Here's a photo from David's first training session in Belgrade today.
Edit: From what I've read about Sunday's training session, David exclusively practiced with Monaco, under the supervision of vice-captain Rivera. While Vázquez focused on Del Potro and Chela. Almost like two separate units, training side by side, rather than together (source).
A short clip of David, hitting with Juan Monaco you can watch here:


In my previous post I wrote that David would undertake the trip to Serbia on his own. But as it turns out, he had company on the flight, travelling together with Juan Monaco. And by now, the two of them have just landed in Belgrade. Juan Martin Del Potro arrived earlier today (source).
Meanwhile, the first practice session took place at the Tk Gemax, the private club where the Argentine team has set up its training camp for the weekend. Though today, it was only Juan Ignacio Chela, who practiced with junior player Andrés Molteni under the supervision of vice captain Caio Rivera and captain Tito Vázquez. Tomorrow he'll be joined by the others, including David. What the atmosphere is going to be like after those latest statements by Vázquez remains to be seen. In any case, I'll post what news, photos and, if possible, videos from the practice sessions I can find.
In the meantime, and with David now in Belgrade, here's a general overview of what awaits him, the team and us during the upcoming Davis Cup week:

First training at the Belgrade Arena

Team press conferences (time tbd.)

Draw ceremony at 12pm local time

First two singles, play starts 3pm local (2pm GMT, 9am EST, 10am Argentina)

Doubles, play starts 3pm local (2pm GMT, 9am EST, 10am Argentina)

Reverse singles, play starts 2pm local (1pm GMT, 8am EST, 9am Argentina)

Edit: a word about Novak Djokovic and the Monday final at the US Open.
If last year (where it was the exact same situation for him) is anything to go by then Djokovic won't play on Friday as originally planned. Instead he could play the doubles and the first singles on Sunday, like he did last year. Which would mean that (apparently existing) plans to spare David a match against Djokovic on Friday and let him play doubles as well as a possible live fifth rubber on Sunday might have to be reconsidered.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Davis Cup - The Drama Begins... Already

Tomorrow, it'll be time for David to say goodbye to Miami and the US and set out for Serbia.
A trip that he's going to undertake on his own, without his personal team. But of course he won't be on his own for very long. Once he arrives in Belgrade, he'll meet up with his Davis Cup teammates, the three Juans - Del Potro, Monaco and Chela (who will also be flying in from the US), as well as junior Andrés Molteni (who has been invited to function as hitting partner) and the rest of the Argentine delegation, including team captain Tito Vázquez. It could be an interesting meeting. I'll get to that in a second.
The first training session is scheduled for Saturday, on a court that the AAT, the Asociación Argentina de Tenis, has rented for the weekend until from Monday on, both teams will be able to practice at the Belgrade Arena (pictured above). Though whether the Serbian team will be present in full force on Monday might also depend on the weather in New York.

But back to the Argentine team and the latest developments, ahead of the tie.
In Argentina, Davis Cup ties are usually preceded by weeks of speculations and rumours in the press, spiced up occasionally by a couple of controversial or backhanded statements from those involved in the upcoming tie. But in this particular case, things were surprisingly quiet. Even though this semifinal will finally see the long-awaited (and previously much debated) reunion of David and Juan Martin Del Potro on the team. And the two of them look back on years of exchanging backhanded statements via the press.
Yesterday, however, the quiet was disrupted when a radio interview aired that Tito Vázquez gave on the show "Basta de Todo" (on Metro 95.1; David has been on it before). During this interview, Vázquez talked about having "differences" with David, that David "said he didn't know him" and "treated him like dirt" when he became captain and that on the Davis Cup team there are players who want everybody else to "dance to their tune".
As such, the content of these statements is not a surprise. The differences have been visible before (in some comments by David and especially during last year's semifinal in Lyon). And I recall how when Vázquez was made captain, David said he had never heard of him before until it became clear that he did know him from junior days. (Apart from that he wanted his former coach Martin Jaite for the job.) As for the last point, that David does have a, as I like to call it, dominant approach to being on the team is known well enough.
But the question remains - why state these things in public and directly before the semifinal?
In the interview, Vázquez also said that none of this has any impact on the team's results and that if they lose, then it's because the other team is better. Still, this latest instalment of Davis Cup drama probably isn't going to make things any easier at Belgrade.

Update (09/09)
On a lighter note...

Monday, September 5, 2011

US Open R3: Defeated but on the Right Track - David's Loss to Nadal

Before the match, David said that playing against Rafael Nadal means long rallies and a lot of rhythm, things that he likes. And it was a match with plenty of long rallies, spectacular and entertaining ones, especially the first set (thanks, Noubar for the highlights). Still, in the end, it was a single shot that proved decisive in the important moments of this match. And it wasn't Nadal's forehand or David's backhand but - the double fault.

In the first set, David demonstrated how effective his game can be against Nadal. Taking the ball early, playing aggressively and controlling the rallies especially with his backhand, he was the better player on court. And the break that he managed to get (for 3-2) only seemed like the logical consequence, even if it was brought about by a double fault from Nadal. But David also served well in this first set, gaining a fair amount of cheap points and never really getting himself into trouble - until he served for it at 5-4. Until then it had been a fine line he had been treading, with his risky, aggressive play paying off. But now, under pressure, the balance shifted. A couple of loose shots set up the first break points he faced in this match and then came - the double fault.
In the eventual tiebreaker, David got unlucky when he slipped on court at 5-5, granting Nadal a set point on his own serve, which the Spaniard took.

After this unfortunate turn of events, the timing of David's shots, their precision and with it his dominance during the rallies were gone. Still struggling to come to terms with the loss of the first set, he immediately went down a double break and only just managed to avoid getting bagelled. At this stage, it wasn't clear whether David had run out of gas after the first set and was perhaps physically no longer able to keep up with Nadal.

The third set, however, began on a different note, with David breaking Nadal's serve. And even though he wasn't able to consolidate the break afterwards, it was the first sign that David had not given up on himself. And that he still had enough left in the tank to put up a fight. After losing his serve again and finding himself down 5-2, David fought back and took the next three games, including a break against Nadal as he was serving for the match. Serving to stay in it at 5-6, however, David faced match points and after having saved the first one came - the double fault.

A somewhat inappropriate ending for a, for the most part, highly competitive and entertaining match. And the first set has to be among the best David has played since hip surgery. He knew that he had to take risks and though this aggressive strategy worked well, it also had its price: 60 unforced errors for the match, compared to 36 winners (Nadal: 18/22). And once more, it was also David's serve that cost him, or rather his inability to hold serve at crucial stages of the match. Including those untimely double faults.
Still, the level of play that he was able to produce during the first set, as well as his comeback in the third are the positive things that can be taken from this match.

After the match, Rafael Nadal made headlines of a different kind when he collapsed during his presser, plagued by cramps. During the English part of his (slightly less eventful) press conference, David mostly had to answer questions about Nadal. But he also talked to Spanish-speaking press and here's a couple of quotes.
It gets more difficult for me every year to win a Grand Slam. I think that the Davis Cup is a more real goal and one I can pursue. (Source.)
If I can play well for one set I can also do it for two or three. I didn't feel tired today, I think I won't have problems playing five sets in Davis Cup. (Source.)
However, according to Fue Buena, David also said that his "adductor bothered him a little". Which brings back some bad memories of the Federer match at Wimbledon and the price at which it came. Whether it's bad and if so how bad, I'll try to find out.
In any case, David will now travel to Miami where he's going to train and prepare for the upcoming Davis Cup semifinal. And then, next Friday he'll be on his way to Belgrade (source).

UpdateII (07/09)
News from David's training camp in Miami. Apparently his adductor still hurt on Monday but on Tuesday he "trained in double shifts with a lot less pain than the day before" (via Danny Miche).

As Danny Miche reports, Martin Jaite announced today that the exhibition match between David and Rafael Nadal, planned to take place at the Parque Roca in December, has been cancelled.

(photos: Reuters, Matthew Stockman/Getty Images & Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

US Open R3 - David vs Rafael Nadal

(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a tough, entertaining match and all in all David gave a good account of himself (and more than just that in the first set). But in the end, it was only enough to keep things close in first and third set, with Rafael Nadal prevailing 7-6(5), 6-1, 7-5 after 2 hours and 39 minutes.
David's next event will now be the Davis Cup semifinal in Belgrade in two weeks.

Edit: Photos from the match are now up. Recording available via David on Screen.
Report coming tomorrow.

A bit of David's post-match press conference you can watch here.

(Getty Images/Reuters; montage by VD)

During his press conference on Friday, Rafael Nadal was asked about his next opponent - David. Here's what came to his mind:
For me he's a very dangerous opponent. I had very tough matches against him. How is the head to head? I lost first two, first three, I don't know. I lost against him in Madrid, Paris [2007]. I don't remember the other one.
And not surprisingly because the other one never happened. Still, that Nadal thinks he has lost three matches to David when in fact it's been only two shows how much of an impression those first two defeats (during which he got a total of seven games) must have left. Since then, Nadal has defeated David twice, at Indian Wells 2009 (after David had five match points) and last year at Miami, where David won the first set but then wasn't able to keep it up. In short, even in those matches he lost, David always took a set off Nadal, he always had a chance. Or in Nadal's words:
He's dangerous. He's a very good player. We know each other really good. We practice a lot together. He's a good friend. Will be a very good test for me. (Source.)
That they also practiced together right before the start of the tournament (just like last year) caused some astonishment among media and fans. According to Fue Buena, they played two practice sets in the last few weeks, with each of them winning one. So they both will have a pretty good idea of what to expect - in general and at this very moment. But can the fact that they train together explain why David has done well against Nadal in the past? Here's David's take on it:
Against Nadal, it's going to be a completely different match compared the one I played today [Friday]. With long rallies, plenty of shots and great rhythm. And that's where I'm going to be on my territory because that's the type of player I am.
One thing is clear though, the long rallies, the great rhythm - all of that will take its toll. And whether David is up to this kind of test now, physically as well as mentally, remains to be seen.
Nadal had a shaky start against Golubev, still he's the overwhelming favourite in this match. But hopefully David can find a way of making things as difficult as possible for him. Or in his words:
With Rafa, the matches are always very tough and you leave everything out there on the court. I hope it's going to be the same again this time. (Source.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

US Open R2: All's well that ends well - David beats Ljubicic

The end was straightforward, David easily serving out his 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Ivan Ljubicic - as can be seen in the clip above. The rest of the match, however, was not quite as straightforward. With four very different sets. And with David going from playing really well to really bad. But then also back again.
So now it's time for the big one. In tomorrow's third round David will face second seed Rafael Nadal (match record: 2-2). From Court 13 to Arthur Ashe Stadium - the kind of setting David loves.

Set 1
While David seemed to pick up exactly where he left off against Reynolds it was Ljubicic who caught a very shaky start. David managed to get an early break (for 2-1) and went on to play what probably his best set of tennis since his last surgeries. Dominant during most of the rallies (helped by Ljubicic's passive play from the baseline) but also completely dominant on serve - dropping only four points on serve in this set. A perfect start, with the momentum firmly on his side. Or so it seemed...

Set 2
- Until his first turn to serve in this second set. Out of nowhere, David lost his serve to love, on a double fault and a couple of unforced errors. And together with his serve he surrendered the dominant position he had been in before, now having to try and catch up with Ljubicic. At 3-1 for Ljubicic David had his chance but after failing to get the break back he lost his serve again and the second set was done and dusted. With David now visibly (and understandably) frustrated.

Set 3
The set that would decide the outcome of the match saw David continuing to struggle on serve but playing much better again during the rallies. The result was a series of breaks (starting with David's for 3-1) and a somewhat bizarre pattern. Twice David managed to go up a break - and twice he immediately surrendered it again, both times losing his serve to love. Until the altogether fifth break in a row then meant a 5-3 lead for David. This time he finally managed to hold serve again and that would prove to be decisive as this third set had very different effects on David and Ljubicic.

Set 4
Up two sets to one, David served and played much better again, while it was Ljubicic who now fell apart. David quickly went up a double break and 3-0, suddenly started hitting aces again and also took the opportunity to play some particularly nice points for the crowd, against an opponent who was already defeated.

After a bright start David made things very difficult for himself in the second and third set, especially concerning his serve. But the fact that he was able to serve much better again towards the end seems to prove that this was more a problem of the mind than of the body. Compared to the Reynolds match he made more first serves (59%) but won less points on them (67%; 61% on second serve), while the constant factor remains making too little of his chances to break (6/16). Still, despite the ups and downs, David played a cleaner match than in the first round, with less unforced errors (36) and double faults (5).
But what to take from it? I thought that David played very well, patiently constructing the points - in parts. He also served better than he has in a while - in parts. And while he did well to get back on track, he may get away with breakdowns like that against Ljubicic. But against Nadal - that will be a different matter.

Friday, September 2, 2011

US Open R2 - David vs Ivan Ljubicic

Just in case any of us had forgotten what rollercoaster rides David's matches can often enough be...
After two hours and 24 minutes, a great first set followed by complete breakdown in the second, a third set that saw five consecutive breaks and finally a breakdown from Ljubicic in the fourth, David converted his second match point for a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
On Sunday, David will now return to the big stage - when he faces second seed Rafael Nadal in the third round.

For the record, today's victory also means that David has successfully defended his ranking points from last year.

More tomorrow...

(photo: Reuters)

(Getty Images; montage by VD)
A battle of the veterans - that's what some of the news sites and blogs are calling this match. Between David, four months away from his 30th birthday and Ivan Ljubicic, who had his already two years ago. It's also the battle of two former world no. 3s, with both of them having achieved that ranking in 2006 - in fact it was Ljubicic who took the #3 spot from David in the August of that year.

Today will be the ninth meeting between these two but the first one at a Slam, with the match record standing at 5-3 in Ljubicic's favour. Five wins that all came between 2005 and 2007, back when they met fairly regularly. After 2007, however, three years went by until their next and most recent encounter. It took place in the first round at Cincy last year and there it was David who captured a 7-5, 6-0 victory (report and highlights here).

For David, the biggest problem with facing Ivan Ljubicic has always been the Croat's serve, which is to say his first serve. And even in their last match David was hardly able to do anything against it until Ljubicic and his serve fell apart in the second set. In his US Open first-round match, Ljubicic didn't serve particularly well by his standards (53% first serves) and it was only his second match on the Tour since Wimbledon (having missed out on the US hardcourt events).
So David will be hoping to get a look at as many second serves as possible - and to continue where he left off against Bobby Reynolds on Tuesday.

Apart from that there's news from the Davis Cup front. Yesterday, Argentina's captain Tito Vázquez announced his team for the semifinal tie against Serbia (September 16-18). So here's the line-up for Belgrade: David, Juan Martin Del Potro, Juan Monaco and Juan Ignacio Chela.
And they'll be up against: Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic, Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic. (Source: Telam.)