Friday, August 31, 2012

Injury Update & Martin Jaite on David and the Semifinal

Until now, the news situation concerning David's injury was that he had already begun the recovery process by means of kinesiological exercises. But according to a new article, at the moment David's rehabilitation seems to mainly consist of medication and trying not to move.
Olé cites a source from David's camp:
The tear is causing him a lot of pain, it hurts even if he just says hi. We're going to evaluate the development on a day-to-day basis. We have to wait until the area has healed. Right now, he's taking painkillers.
The objective is to take away the pain. He'll continue with the rehabilitation process but we cannot say when he'll be ready to pick up a racquet again.
Which really doesn't sound too promising, two weeks ahead of the Davis Cup semifinal.

Speaking of which, in a new interview with Clarin, Argentina's Davis Cup captain Martin Jaite (seen here at the US Open) talks about the current situation of the team, including David and his injury. He reveals that David's decision to pull out of the US Open didn't come until Tuesday morning, when apparently the last bit of hope was gone. And he also confirms that he'll announce his team nominations for the semifinal tie next Monday.
Jaite: We have to wait and see how things develop with David. This setback means that we had to wait a little but on Monday, we're going to announce the team.

Q: You still have time until Tuesday.

Jaite: Tuesday is the last day but Monday or Tuesday won't make a difference. Afterwards, we can still change [the line-up] up until an hour before the draw ceremony. It would be good if all the players would be available until then. Those who were part of the team against Croatia, as well as those who were not. They all want to play.

Q: You spoke to David before he left for Buenos Aires. What was your impression of him?

Jaite: He was calm. He was in pain. I think nobody foresaw this kind of setback. But he was okay, he wanted to get to Argentina to begin with the treatment as quickly as possible, to see if he might be able to play. Obviously, nobody likes to miss a Grand Slam but setbacks like that happen to tennis players.

Q: Berlocq already knew that he's going to be the fifth [player to get nominated], that's what he told us.

Jaite: No, I wouldn't nominate a fifth player. We talked to Charly on Sunday. Before we knew that about David. David came to talk to us on Monday night, he said he'd wait and see how he was on Tuesday morning. At that moment, it was maybe just a contracted muscle. And to Charly we talked ahead of that because we wanted to explain to him why he wouldn't be among the four [players to get nominated]. That we'd go with the same team like against Croatia and that in case there was a setback he might be an option for us. But he's not the fifth player. If he's there he'll work with the team. Leo Mayer as well. And it's good that way.

Q: What if David only just makes it...

Jaite: David doesn't have to only just make it. Because that wouldn't be good for the team, and also not for him. If he recovers he'll be on the team, if not... Every player has to be at one hundred percent.
Whether David will be at one hundred percent two weeks from now seems highly doubtful, to say the least. But the question still is whether he might try to play (and if Jaite will let him) if he's at a little or much less than one hundred percent.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

David's Injury - A Chronology of Events

With the help of Jorge Viale's article for ESPN, here's a look back at what happened during the last few days. From the moment David got injured until where we are now.

It happened on Sunday morning, at the Billie Jean King International Tennis Center, also known as the site of the US Open. On Court 11, David was in the middle of a doubles practice session together with Edu Schwank when he suddenly stopped because of a sharp pain he felt in his side. Thinking that it might have been a spasm of some sort, it was decided to wait until the next day, hoping that the problem would disappear until then.

On Sunday afternoon, David gave the interview to Clarin (that I posted on Monday). During it, he was asked how he was, ahead of the US Open and the double duty of playing singles and doubles that was awaiting him. David's reply: "I'm fine, physically with some minimal discomfort, so yeah, good." And at that moment he probably still believed, or at least hoped, that it was really just something minimal and that he'd be okay again the next day.

On Monday, however, he had to realise that there was no improvement. And it must've been during that day that the decision to withdraw was taken together with his team, which in this case means his physio Mariano Seara. Perhaps the first one to learn about it was Edu, as David told him that wasn't going to play the doubles, saying that it was "tough for him". Though it was also tough for Edu - who had travelled to New York for nothing.

On Tuesday, around noon, the Argentine journalists in New York knew that David was going to pull out of the US Open. But it wasn't until the early evening that David showed up on site for the required medical check and doping test (that apparently every player has to take, who retires without playing) and to officially inform the tournament organisers of his withdrawal. He didn't talk to any of the journalists on site.

Today, David already arrived back in Argentina and the medical examinations confirmed that the sharp pain his side was not just a distension but a tear in his left abdominal oblique muscle. With an estimated recovery time of 3 weeks. Rehabilitation also started today with the first exercises under the supervision of David's trusted kinesiologist and friend Diego Rodriguez. While the doctor in charge is Miguel Khoury, who has treated David before and is the physician of the Davis Cup team.

Theoretically, David won't be able to make it until the Davis Cup semifinal, which starts in around 2 weeks. Practically, he'll try anyway.

Update (30/08)
The Argentine news agency DyN quotes a source close to David:
The injury is very complex. From a medical point of view he's almost out of the tie.
But from a medical point of view he shouldn't have played against Romania, and he did. And he also shouldn't have travelled to Sweden, and he played.
- He'll try anyway...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

David vs Delpo Cancelled - David Withdraws from US Open

Update II (29/08)
There's news about David's injury - and it's bad news...
According to Danny Miche and Guillermo Salatino, David's spokesman Bernardo Ballero has confirmed that the injury David has suffered is a tear in his left abdominal oblique muscle (close to the intercostal area that was previously mentioned).
The estimated recovery time is 3 weeks.
Therefore, even though David will start with kinesiological exercises today, it looks like he probably won't be ready in time for the Davis Cup semifinal tie, due to start in 16 days.

Edit: Some more info from Clarin.
A statement relased by his press team says that Nalbandian arrived in Argentina on Wednesday [i.e. today] and underwent medical examinations. "Unfortunately, they showed that David has suffered a tear in the left abdominal oblique muscle. Therefore, together with his team he has already begun with the kinesiological treatment for his recovery," it says in the text.
According to the statement, David said that he feels "deeply saddened" by the injury and he "hopes to take up training again as soon as possible".

It's the kind of news we haven't had in a long time - and now it comes at what's basically the worst possible moment. Apparently, David suffered an abdominal injury, either a distension or a tear in training (Edit: when exactly isn't clear yet).
And he has pulled out of the US Open. (Source.)
The Davis Cup semifinal might also be in danger.
Right now, the news situation is still chaotic. But I'll try my best to keep you posted.

Update (29/08)
Here's the official press relase from David's camp:
Due to an injury in the intercostal area [the muscles between the ribs] suffered during training, together with his team David has decided to withdraw from both the singles and the doubles of the 2012 edition of the US Open.

Nalbandian is scheduled to return to Argentina in the coming days to undergo a series of examinations in order to determine the severity of the injury and define the time required for his recovery.

On the subject, David said, "I'm very sad that I won't be able to take part in the last Grand Slam of the season, and I hope to be there for the Davis Cup tie against the Czech Republic in September."

Monday, August 27, 2012

The State of Affairs - A New Interview with David

It's been a few weeks since the last longer interview with David. But now, there is a new one and with it the chance to hear from David himself about the situation right now, after the losing streak, and ahead of the US Open and his first-round match against Delpo.
Yesterday afternoon, Gustavo Ronzano for Clarin caught up with him on site at the player restaurant, where David was hanging out with Davis Cup captain Martin Jaite and vice-captain Mariano Zabaleta. And of course, the upcoming Davis Cup semifinal was also among the subjects that were discussed. Here's the interview:
Q: Where would you like to start? There are a couple of topics at hand. The US Open, the Davis Cup semifinal, the first round here against Del Potro, all that has happened this year. Your choice.

David: Hahaha, no, no. You're the one, doing the article, so... Go on, whatever you like, I don't care.

Q: Okay. How are you, going into this tournament?

David: Good. I think that this kind of tournament is very important and nice to play. So I come here with motivation. I haven't been winning a lot of matches, I had some very tough first-round matches because I wasn't seeded and in that sense it's a pity. But I'm fine, physically with some minimal discomfort, so yeah, good.

Q: Those latest results, have they been a bit of a blow for your confidence?

David: No, because those I lost to are are all very good players. Obviously, it would've been better to lose in the semifinals or in a final. But things like that happen.

Q: But it was four [first-round defeats] in a row and you're not used to going out at tournaments so quickly.

David: But well, I lost to guys who are good players. There's not much to it. So you have to work, to keep improving, to try and make sure that the next week is better than the last.

Q: Where does your motivation come from, at this point in your career?

David: It's that you want to go on. You always dreamed of playing at this level, so I think that's where the motivation comes from. I think that I still have something to give. Winning the Davis Cup is a goal and those are the things that make you go on, make sacrifices, train, and continue with this after all this time.

Q: Did you also enter the doubles because you know you'll play the doubles [in Davis Cup] with Eduardo Schwank?

David: But I played the doubles in many ties, under various captains who asked me to play it, and so today, I still do.

Q: What about the singles [rubbers], do you feel that they're set?

David: I have no idea. Neither is the team, I think. And if we don't know what the team is going to look like then how are we supposed to know who's going to play. You have to ask Martin [Jaite], the captain about these things, hahaha.

Q: Okay, but you're thinking about these things, you see things, you sense them. Or not?

David: I don't know. When the time comes... I don't know.

Q: Because of the problem with his left wrist, Del Potro told us on Saturday that he can't make any plans.

David: Sometimes it happens because of decisions and personal preferences. If someone is not well then you can't think eight weeks ahead. We'll see what's going to happen.

Q: Well, but talking about your passion for the Davis Cup, with all it represents, if tomorrow Martin [Jaite] told you, "David, the singles players will be Juan Martin and Pico" then you'd surely be there, supporting the team because of that desire you have to win it.

David. Yeah. What else am I going to do?

Q: It'll sound strange and more so, playing at home.

David: Last year, I didn't play singles in the final against Spain. Those are strategies. And each captain has his way of thinking and seeing the ties. We'll see. It's still [a couple of weeks] until then, it's going to be a very different surface, compared to the US Open. I think the important thing is to give the best I can here, and when it's over I'll start thinking about the Davis Cup.

Q: How did you feel when you found out that you're going play against Juan Martin in the first round?

David: Nothing, as always it's a pity if two Argentines meet. But that's the way it is. It's a pity, having to face each other.

Q: It doesn't look like a first-round match.

David: But that happens. At Wimbledon, I played against Tipsarevic in the first round, at the Olympics as well. Things like that happen if you're not seeded. I think it's going to be a tough match, we know each other well and I'll have to do basically everything right in order to have a chance to win.

US Open Doubles Draw

It doesn't happen very often that David plays doubles at a Slam. In fact, this will only be the fifth time in his career. (The first three times took place in 2003, the last in 2006.) But this time, with the Davis Cup semifinal close at hand, and after David's and Edu's only very brief stint at the Olympics, there's obviously the need for some more preparation.
And so David and Edu are in the doubles draw of the US Open. They have been drawn into the top half, and there into the lower quarter:

[3] Lindstedt (SWE) / Tecau (ROU) vs Bracciali (ITA) / Zeballos (ARG)
Ramirez-Hidalgo (ESP) / Ramos (ESP) vs Paire (FRA) / Roger-Vasselin (FRA)
Stakhovsky (UKR) / Troicki (SRB) vs Kohlmann (GER) / Phau (GER)
Knowle (AUT) / Polasek (SVK) vs [13] Marrero (ESP) / Verdasco (ESP)

[11] Marray (GBR) / Nielsen (DEN) vs Cipolla (ITA) / Fognini (ITA)
Levine (USA) / Matosevic (AUT) vs [WC] Buchanan (USA) / Klahn (USA)
Nalbandian (ARG) / Schwank (ARG) vs Karlovic (CRO) / Moser (GER)
Brown (GER) / Kas (GER) vs [5] Paes (IND) / Stepanek (CZE)

Complete draw here.

David's and Edu's first-round opponents Ivo Karlovic and Frank Moser shook up the world of doubles tennis last year when they beat Bob and Mike Bryan in the first round of the US Open (but only to then lose to Italian pair Bolelli/Fognini in the following round). Since then Karlovic and Moser have been playing doubles together on a regular basis, and they reached the semifinal at three smaller events this year (Zagreb, Delray Beach and Houston). So they're a fairly experienced team, one half of which David and Edu met earlier this season the Davis Cup quarterfinal against Croatia, when they beat Karlovic and Cilic in a five-set battle.
And if they make it past Karlovic/Moser, David and Edu could meet one half of the doubles team they'll be up against in the upcoming Davis Cup semifinal - Radek Stepanek, seeded fifth with his partner here, Leander Paes.

When exactly David's and Edu's first-round match is going to take place isn't clear yet but but I'll keep you posted.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

US Open Draw

(Getty Images)
It's the fourth and final Slam of the season and it could turn out to be the last. But in any case, this year's edition of the US Open, the eleventh for David since his debut in 2001, will see him playing both singles and the doubles, together with Edu Schwank. The draw for the doubles won't be available until Sunday but the singles draw ceremony took place today.
And here's what came out of it.

David has been drawn into the bottom half and there into the bottom, i.e. Novak Djokovic's quarter. Though actually, it should be known as the Argentine quarter of the draw. For it not only includes David but also Leonardo Mayer, Charly Berlocq and Pico, as well as David's opponent in the first round:

[7] Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) vs David Nalbandian (ARG)
Benjamin Becker (GER) vs Ryan Harrison (USA)
Lukasz Kubot (POL) vs Leonardo Mayer (ARG)
Tommy Robredo (ESP) vs [26] Andreas Seppi (ITA)
[20] Andy Roddick (USA) vs [Q] Rhyne Williams (USA)
Carlos Berlocq (ARG) vs Bernard Tomic (AUS)
Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) vs Fabio Fognini (ITA)
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs [10] Juan Monaco (ARG)

[14] Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) vs Jesse Levine (USA)
Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) vs [Q] Matthias bachinger (GER)
Steve Darcis (BEL) vs Malek Jaziri (TUN)
Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR) vs [18] Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)
[31] Julien Benneteau (FRA) vs Olivier Rochus (BEL)
[WC] Dennis Novikov (USA) vs Jerzy Janowicz (POL)
Rogerio Dutra Silva (BRA) vs [Q] Teymuraz Gabashvili (RUS)
Paolo Lorenzi (ITA) vs [2] Novak Djokovic (SRB)

Complete draw here.

Update (25/08)
The upper half of the draw will begin on Monday, which means that David's match will take place on either Tuesday or Wednesday.

So David will be up against Delpo - a match-up that hasn't happened since the autumn of 2008. Their four previous encounters have one thing in common, they all took place indoors. Three of them in a row during the indoor swing in 2008. The match record stands at 3-1 for David. But it's been a while.
In three weeks' time they'll be teammates in the Davis Cup semifinal. In a couple of days they'll be opponents in the first round. In a match that will receive a lot of attention and that will certainly take place on one of the big courts. Whether David is ready for this kind of match, we'll see.

Some Thoughts in Relation with David's Loss to Dolgopolov

There are those little moments that every player loves. A particularly great shot, an unlikely winner out of seemingly nowhere, a brief moment of magic - and then the crowd, erupting in a cheer. Many of David's matches have included moments like that. When he played his angles, his backhand down-the-line, or his return winners, for example. And he loved it. Yesterday's match had a couple of those moments as well - but they belonged to Alexandr Dolgopolov. It was not a terrible match from David but these days, faced with higher-ranked opponents, trying to stand his ground is hard enough work for him to leave very little room for magic. Or for enjoying himself on court.

Against an opponent from the same region in the rankings it's still enough to get a fairly easy win, as David demonstrated with his victory over Robin Haase. In a match like that, he can get away with not serving too well, and he has a much better chance to execute his own game. He gets more time to set up his shots and doesn't find himself in a defensive position during the rallies so easily.
What happens if his opponent takes that time away from him and manages to move David around the court could be observed during yesterday's match. Dolgopolov not only did a good job of keeping David on the run, there were also several rallies where he simply beat him for speed with his groundstrokes. Shots that David found no way of defending against.

Still, David was not without chances in this match. A chance to retrieve the break at 4-2 in the first set. And, most notably of course, leading 4-2 and 40-0 in the second. Getting broken after having been up 40-0 is something of a "specialty" with David these days. The same goes for messing up the important moments during a match, and both of these phenomenons speak of a problem that seems to be of the mental kind. It's almost as if David has totally forgotten how to take the initiative and believe in himself in situations like that, as well as how to remain positive when things aren't going his way.

By now, it's probably safe to say that the Queen's Club final has turned what was a decent season until then into a protracted drama. An incident that, I believe, happened for certain reasons, as I wrote in a previous post. But while perhaps David wasn't really happy with the way things were going until that fateful kick, what has happened ever since then can't have served to lighten his mood. On paper, he just got rather unlucky with the draws and lost a few matches to players, ranked far above him. But on court, what was perhaps an uphill battle in David's eyes even before the Queen's Club final has by now turned into what more and more seems like trying to make a last and increasingly grim stand. Against his opponents, against umpires, the rulebook, against everything that continues to work against him - as he appears to see it.

On Monday, the last Slam of the season, the US Open will begin. It could be the last Slam for David. Apart from singles, he'll also play doubles with Edu Schwank, in an obvious attempt to prepare for the upcoming Davis Cup semifinal. With the Davis Cup now probably even more than already before the very centre of David's attention. After that tie, it'll be time for the Asian swing. That David won't try to defend his quarterfinal points at Tokyo is already clear. But if he also decides to skip the Shanghai Masters then it could mean that from now on, he only intends to play those events that he likes. And that could be a further sign of what might happen at the end of the year.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Winston-Salem R3 - David vs Alexandr Dolgopolov

Update II
David's "training camp" at Winston-Salem has ended in the third round with a defeat against Alexandr Dolgopolov, who prevailed 6-3, 6-4.
So now it's on to New York and the US Open, where David will be playing both singles and doubles (with Edu Schwank). More about the match tomorrow, as well as about the draw ceremony for the US Open, which will take place at noon, local time.

(AP Photo; montage by VD)

1.35pm local - David's match is now about to begin.

A while ago, talking about his preferences when it comes to following matches, David said that watching a player "who just bashes the ball, and bashes, and keeps bashing it for two hours, that's not fun to watch because it makes you want to say - go for something else, try something different in the rally..." (Source.) And trying something different in the rally, that's exactly what his opponent today is known for.

Alexandr Dolgopolov, 23 years old and currently ranked #15, has by now established himself as a Top20 player and he's the fourth seed at Winston-Salem. His best results this year include the quarterfinal he reached at Madrid, a semifinal appearance at Umag (lost to Cilic), making the final at Brisbane (lost to Murray) and, more recently, the title he won at Washington, where he defeated Haas in the final. After that, Dolgopolov went out in the first round at both Toronto and Cincy (against Stepanek and Davydenko). In his first match at Winston-Salem, however, he had no difficulties at all with Yen-Hsun Lu.

Today's match will be the first meeting between David and Alexandr Dolgopolov, the first time that David will find himself confronted with the Ukranian's unorthodox but also versatile game. As Dolgopolov is among the few players to employ different strategies and also change them in the course of a match. And his quick, unusual service motion might take David a while to get used to. In any case, Dolgopolov is a player who's able to place the ball well, making use of the whole dimensions of the court. So David might end up having to cover a lot of ground, unless he can take control of the rallies and keep Dolgopolov on the back foot. And a better serve performance than yesterday would help with that.

On a different note, the entry lists for Tokyo and Beijing came out last night and David's name is to be found on neither of the two. Whether he'll be going to Shanghai for the Masters we'll know next week.

The End of the Streak: David Defeats Haase

(Fred Mullane/Cameraworks)

There is a photo from the match, after all.

After four first-round defeats in a row, David finally broke his losing streak yesterday with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Robin Haase, the self-confessed "David fan". And as much as I would've liked to include some clips or photos with this post - there simply are none. So no extras this time but here's a brief summary and few thoughts on the match.

David was off to a good start, held to love in his first service game and then secured an early break to go up 2-1. After fending off a break point in the following game, he extended his lead to a double break and 4-1. At 5-1, David had a first set point on Haase's serve but the Dutchman responded with an ace. Serving for the set at 5-2, David saved 4 break points before, on his altogether fourth set point, Haase committed a backhand error and David took the first 6-2.
In the second set, David managed to get what would turn out to be the decisive break for 3-2. Making far too few first serves in this set, David still got through his service games without any real difficulties. At 5-3, with Haase serving to stay in the match, David had 3 match points but again Haase managed to save them and scraped through to 5-4. What followed was the longest and most dramatic service game of the match, in the course of which David saved 3 break points before eventually converting his fifth match point with a service winner, 6-4.

The most important thing about this match is of course that David won it. That he managed to break the losing streak he had been on since the Queen's Club final. A first, crucial step towards regaining the confidence he'll need for what's ahead in the coming weeks.
Other positive aspects include that he was able to play this match on his own terms, successfully executing some of his favourite shot combinations and patterns, and controlling most of the rallies. And that he managed to win the match without dropping his serve.

At the same time, the match also showed the problems David is still having at the moment, and which I'd still put down to a lack of match practice and confidence. Something that enhances existing weaknesses. In David's case, yesterday it was once more his forehand that got him into trouble, especially at the important moments in the match (e.g. serving for the first set: 6 forehand errors in that game). Speaking of important moments, closing out sets and matches is something David tends to struggle with, also on better days. And he did struggle mightily. But, and that's what matters, he managed to get there in the end.
And then there was the serve. David made only 45% first serves (35% in the second set). That he still managed not to get broken was mostly down to winning a very healthy 64% of his second serves. Here, I'll explain what I already alluded to in the comments. The camera angle on Court 2 makes it rather difficult to follow the rallies. But it showed yesterday what seems to be the basic probem with David's serve, which is to say his first serve. Now, David has a very high ball toss, which tends to cause difficulties in windy conditions. Yesterday, there was no wind but his ball toss on first serve was - all over the place. Too far ahead, too far to the side, too far behind. While on second serve, the toss and the whole motion seemed far more stable. To show you what I mean, here's a screencap of a first serve.

Yesterday's match was an important first step for David. Today, a different kind of challenge awaits in the form of Alexandr Dolgopolov. We'll see how David will deal with it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Winston-Salem R2 - David vs Robin Haase

Update II
David has finally managed to break his losing streak: After 84 minutes on court, he defeated  Robin Haase 6-2, 6-4 for a place in the third round, where his opponent will be fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. Tomorrow's match will be their first meeting.

Also tomorrow: more about this match. And photos - if I can find any, that is.

(EFE/Getty Images; montage by VD)

3.40pm local - David's match is now next up on Court 2.

Usually, it's one of the weeks in the calendar where we don't get to see much of David. As he normally spends it at Flushing Meadows, preparing for the US Open. This time, however, after only two matches at Toronto and Cincy, there has been a change of plans. So David will play his first match at Winston-Salem today, against an opponent he has never faced before but probably knows from the practice courts. Whereas his opponent most certainly knows him.

25-year-old Robin Haase, at #46 currently ranked directly behind David, apparently considers clay to be his favourite surface. And on clay he's had his best results this season, with his successful title defense at Kitzbühel (against Kohlschreiber in the final) and the quarterfinals he reached at Monte Carlo (lost to Djokovic) and Estoril (lost to Wawrinka). Apart from that he reached the quarterfinal at Zagreb, earlier on in the season (lost to Lacko). However, at all other events Haase played this season, he went out in either the first or the second round, including Cincy last week, where he lost in the first round to Andreas Seppi.

For David, this match is going to be the chance to end his losing streak and make a new start, his best chance since the Queen's Club final. In a very different scenario - from the big stage to the, let's call it intimate setting of Winston-Salem's Court 2. And against an opponent, who calls him one of his "heroes". Against Davdyenko, Haase did play a solid match, mostly rallying from the baseline but also mixing it up with attacks at the net. But Davydenko struggled with his serve and his groundstrokes and only rarely managed to put Haase under real pressure. Something that David will be aiming to do very differently today.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rankings Update

David's opponent tomorrow will be Robin Haase (#46 as of this week), who defeated Nikolay Davydenko 6-2, 6-3. The order of play is out as well: David's match will be the third one on Court 2, for which there is a stream.

Ahead of the Winston-Salem Open, which will start for David tomorrow, here's a look at the  rankings. His first-round exit at Cincy (where he made the second round, last year) means that David loses 35 points and six positions in the rankings so that he's now ranked #45.

At Winston-Salem, David's first opponent (in the second round tomorrow) will be determined today in the match between Nikolay Davydenko and Robin Haase. Their encounter is scheduled as the third match on Center Court.
Meanwhile, David is busy on the practice courts. And if you look closely, you can spot him:


Friday, August 17, 2012

Winston-Salem Draw

(Getty Images)

After a long wait for David's wildcard to be officially confirmed and then a bit of chaos about the seeding, here it is, David's draw for Winston-Salem. He is seeded, 14th, and gets a bye in the first round. And he has been drawn into the bottom half, into Alexandr Dolgopolov's quarter:

[7] Sam Querrey (USA) vs BYE
Santiago Giraldo (COL) vs Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA)
Donald Young (USA) vs Leonardo Mayer (ARG)
BYE vs [9] Feliciano Lopez (ESP)
[14 WC] David Nalbandian (ARG) vs BYE
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) vs Robin Haase (NED)
Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE) vs Lukas Lacko (SVK)
BYE vs [4] Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)

The complete draw you can view here.

So David will play his first match, in the second round, either against an "old acquaintance" or against someone, who has so far only admired his game from afar. Nikolay Davydenko (currently #50) David has already faced a dozen times, including matches at Masters events, Slams and in Davis Cup (match record: 7-5 for David). Davydenko was forced to retire at Cincy this week, due to shoulder problems. What this means for his appearance at this event remains to be seen. Against Robin Haase (#44)  on the other hand, David has never played before. But a year ago, at Winston-Salem actually, Haase still named him as one of his three toughest opponents in this video for the ATP site, saying that for him, David is one of the greatest players ever.
In the third round, David would be bound to meet the fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov (#16), who seems to have been struggling a little since winning the title at Washington, with first-round exits at Toronto and Cincy (where he only got two games against Davydenko). It would be David's first meeting with Dolgopolov.
But first of all, we'll see who David's first opponent is going to be.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Close but no Cigar - David Loses to Haas (again)

The match today was close, I had a match point, I could've won. Those are the kind of tough matches where one point more means you win and one less that you lose.
Whether or not David's defeat was a foregone conclusion after Haas saved that match point, it was a close and hard-fought match, a battle that lasted 3 hours and 22 minutes (tying the record for the longest three-set match this year, outside of the Olympics). And in the end, both kept up their own streaks. With his 6-7(0), 7-6(4), 6-3 victory, Haas extends his record against David to 5-0. Whereas David's losing streak continues. It's the first time since 2002 that he has lost four consecutive first-round matches. But unlike last week, he talked to Jorge Viale for after the match.
At this level, every match is tough, I'm not saying anything new here. When I was further up in the rankings, I also had first-round matches where I suffered, matches you could lose. I don't see that as something serious, except that losing in the first round means you don't get the chance to find your rhythm and get confidence.
In an attempt to get another chance ahead of the US Open, David has asked for a wildcard at Winston-Salem, the 250 event in North Carolina that takes place next week. Whether he'll get the one wildcard that's left remains to be seen.

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)
It wasn't the best of starts that David caught in this match, getting broken, from 40-0 up, in his first service game (for 2-0) and then almost going down a double break. But he managed to take it up a notch just in time for the decisive part of the first set. From 5-2 to 5-4, Haas had altogether 6 set points, 4 of which came on his own serve (at 5-3) but David managed to save all 6 of them before levelling the score at 5-5. In the eventual tiebreak, his missed chances seemed to catch up with Haas as he didn't get a single point and David took the first set 7-6(0).

At the start of the second set, the tables seemed to have turned. David held serve to love, and then managed to break Haas for a 2-0 lead, with the German now visibly (and audibly) frustrated. But then came the game that would change the course of the match yet again. In David's words:
I was leading by a set and a break, I had lots of chances to hold serve and he played some good points. At 2-0, I made an error, the other times he played well. It's a shame because I was a little bit better and he was getting annoyed.
That error was the double fault he lost his serve on (after 5 game points). Back on serve now, the second set turned into a battle that would eventually last 86 minutes, with various break points on both sides but no further breaks. The most important one was of course the match point David had at 6-5 but that Haas saved with a good serve. In the tiebreak, they remained on serve until at 4-3, David made two unforced errors in a row on his own serve, and Haas eventually closed it out with an ace, 7-6(4).

(tournament website/FB)
In the third set, David tried to keep the points short by coming to the net whenever possible. After he saved an early break point (at 1-0) there were a couple of easy holds on both sides. Until David's strength and with it his aggressive strategy began to fade. At 4-3, after once more having had game points, David got broken again, and Haas served out the match without difficulties, finishing it with the last of his 21 aces.

The good things that can be taken from this match is that this time, it was close and that David played better than he did in the three previous matches, able to control more of the rallies and to construct points (50 winners, 36 unforced errors). He also held up better, physically than he did at Toronto, even if it wasn't enough in the end.
The problems on the other hand were obvious as well. Especially in the second set, his often way too harmless serve cost David a lot of points, as well as his early break. He also didn't return very well, then again he has always struggled against Haas in that department. Converting only 2 of 13 break points didn't help either, though at the same time, he saved 11 of the 14 break points that Haas had. - In the end, as is so often the case, it came down to a few moments, a few important points. Not just the match point but also dropping his serve at 2-0 in the second, or those errors he made in the second-set tiebreak. Those situations that would be a lot easier to get through with more confidence and match practice.

And then there was that little incident in the third set. At 3-3, 30-0, Haas served an ace that David wanted to challenge (in a timely manner, by his standards) but umpire Gerry Armstrong refused to let him, on the grounds that it was too late, while Haas said he'd be fine with a challenge. After that, David turned to talk to someone in the stands. That someone was Tom Barnes, the ATP supervisor, who was also in charge at the Queen's Club final. David asked him how quickly he needed to challenge, "a second, two, three, five? You tell me, Tom!" Here's what he said about it after the match:
Why is it so hard for the umpire to say challenge and then we'll see if it's good or out? The technology helps but the umpires make big mistakes with their judgement. Very big ones.
I'm not comparing this to what happened in Australia. That was an important point, today it was irrelevant. But it's something that goes beyond whether [that ball] was good or out.
It was only a very little incident this time but I think it fits with what I've called the "increasingly uphill battle" that David is fighting. Not just against his opponents but also against other factors, like umpires and the rulebook. He really needs to win again...
Here's hoping he'll get the wildcard for Winston-Salem.

(tournament website/FB)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cincy R1 - David vs Tommy Haas

It took an hour longer than last week, there were two tiebreak sets this time and up 6-5 in the second set David had a match point. But in the end, after almost three and a half hours, it was once more Tommy Haas, who prevailed 6-7(0), 7-6(4), 6-3. The streak continues.
The next tournament for David will now be the US Open, which start in 13 days.

More tomorrow...

(AP Photo; montage by VD)

Usually, I try to find photos that are visually as similar as possible. But these two are closely related for a different reason: They show David and Tommy Haas during their most recent encounter. And "recent" is the right word in this context - a week ago to the day they met in the first round at Toronto. Haas overcame David in three sets, improving his match record against him to 4-0, and then went on to win two more matches at Toronto (against Gilles Simon and Radek Stepanek) before losing to the eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinal, though not without taking a set off him.

At now 34 years of age and the survivor of more injuries and surgeries than David, Tommy Haas (ranked #23 this week) is in excellent shape at the moment and has been, these last few months. Against David last week, he played well, though not spectacularly so - and he didn't need to. David made things fairly easy for him by committing way too many unforced errors and also by not serving too well. The only exception was the second set, where David went for a more varied approach, including attacks at the net and drop-shots, and perhaps we'll see more of that, today. But most of all the question is whether this time, the timing on his shots will be better than it was last week.

I'm no statistician but the odds of David, drawing the same difficult opponent twice in the first round, two times in a row must have been rather slim. Now this scenario has come to pass, and it will be a crucial match for David. Winning it would mean to break the losing streak he's been on since the Queen's Club final. It could signify a new start. Another loss on the other hand would not only mean no further matches ahead of the US Open but also going there with what certainly wouldn't be much confidence and probably thinking that everything continues to work against him. - A crucial match. Let's hope he'll be ready (and awake) for it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cincy Draw

(Getty Images)
It's  the last US hardcourt Masters of the season and the last tournament David is going to play ahead of the US Open/Davis Cup semifinal "double feature".
And it's also traditionally not really David's best or his favourite Masters event. Whether there's any chance of that to change this time remains to be seen.

So here's what's going to await David at Cincy next week. He has been drawn into the bottom half, and there into the upper, i.e. Andy Murray's quarter. And in case you thought that drawing Tipsarevic in the first round twice in a row was something that could only happen once in a blue moon, have a look at this:

[6] Juan Martin Del Potro vs BYE
David Nalbandian (ARG) vs Tommy Haas (GER)
[WC] Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) vs Mikhail Youzhny (RUS)
Viktor Troicki (SRB) vs [Q] Ivan Dodig (CRO)*

[16] Andy Roddick vs [LL] Jeremy Chardy (FRA)
Denis Istomin (UZB) vs Julien Benneteau (FRA)
Jürgen Melzer (AUT) vs [WC] Sam Querrey (USA)
BYE vs [3] Andy Murray (GBR)

The complete draw you'll find here.
*John Isner has withdrawn and is replaced by a qualifier, i.e. Dodig

Update (13/08)
David, ranked #39 this week, will meet Tommy Haas on Tuesday - just like at Toronto.

So for David, it's another first-round match against Tommy Haas, who lost to Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinal of Toronto last night. And if he gets past him this time, in the second round at least we'd get a match that hasn't happened since 2008 - David vs Delpo. But first of all, it's Tommy Haas for David. Again.

In the meantime, here it is, the Rexona Men TV commercial:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Trend Continues... David's First-Round Exit at Toronto

Ahead of this match, there was hope that this might be a new start for David, a chance to stop the trend of the past weeks. But in the end, after two hours and 22 minutes, it was Tommy Haas, who prevailed 6-2, 6-7(11), 6-3. It's the third time in a row now that David has lost in the first round, and the sixth time it has happened this season. But although David didn't go down without a fight yesterday, there's now only one tournament left for him to try and get a couple of matches, ahead of the US Open and the Davis Cup semifinal. And that this event is another Masters and above all, that it's Cincy won't make it any easier for him.

Initially, David looked to be off to a good start, as he broke Haas in the very first game. But it would remain to be the only break he got in this match and he handed it straight back, on a double fault that he should've challenged but didn't (the HawkEye revealed that his second serve was good). Haas made only 38% first serves in the first set but David was unable to capitalise on it, making far too many unforced errors, mostly with his forehand. Having dropped his serve on a series of errors to give Haas a 3-1 lead, David got broken again as he served to stay in the set, allowing the German to take it 6-2.

In the second set, David tried a slightly different approach, now coming to the net more often and also using the drop-shot to good effect. He was still making lots of errors from the baseline but he was obviously determined to put up a fight and in-between the errors there were now more and more good points from David. He couldn't find a way of breaking Haas (who served much better now) but he held his own serve and he held twice to love when he served to stay in the match. The long and hard-fought tiebreak that followed was the highlight of the match and saw some gutsy play from David (and a couple of great drop-shots), as he saved altogether 4 match points before eventually taking the second set 7-6(11).

The decisive phase in the third set came early on. At 1-1, David saved 2 break points and scraped through to 2-1. In the following game, he had 3 chances to break Haas, his first since the very first game of the match. On the first break point, David's second-serve return was called out, another call he should've challenged (as it was proven wrong by the HawkEye). But David didn't challenge and also didn't manage to convert his other break points. Instead, he faced another break point in the next game and this time, Haas saw David's drop-shot coming, countered it and got the break for 3-2. After that, David (now visibly low on gas) didn't have any further chance on return and eventually got broken again as he served to stay in the match, with Haas winning the third set 6-3 and with it the match.

The general "dramaturgy" of this match contained some familiar elements. David played a rather terrible first set, then tried to play more aggressively in the second, finding (as well as fighting) his way into the match but also spending most of his energy in the process, with not too much of it left for the third. Not a good pattern to have but at the same time indicative of David's lack of rhythm and match practice, basically needing one set to get going. And then paying the price for losing that first set in the end.
Another sign of it were the problems David had with the timing on his groundstrokes, especially on the forehand, and far too often when he had enough time to set up his shots. It's not often that you get to see David shank and mishit as many balls as he did yesterday. He also didn't serve particularly well (except in second set) but most of all, it was those 42 unforced errors (compared to 23 winners) that ended up costing him dearly.
The only cure for these problems is playing and winning matches. To regain confidence, something that David seems to be lacking more than anything else at this point. I would've liked to include a couple of quotes from him with this post but apparently, David didn't talk to the media after the match - a statement in itself.
So now, all that's left ahead of the US Open and the Davis Cup semifinal is Cincy, next week. And the hope for a makeable first round. Hope dies last, as they say.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Toronto R1 - David vs Tommy Haas

He saved four match points in the second-set tiebreak but in the end, after two hours and 22 minutes, David couldn't stop Tommy Haas from converting his altogether sixth match point for a 6-2, 6-7(11), 6-3 victory. So Haas keeps his perfect record against David. And David's losing streak of first-round matches continues. Next up now Cincy.

More tomorrow...

(Getty Images; montage by VD)

"For old times' sake", "a match from the old days" and of course the inevitable "battle of the veterans" - those are just a few of the things that have been said about David's first-round match at Toronto today. But whether or not you like to think of David as a veteran on the ATP Tour, if there's anyone who merits that description then it's Tommy Haas. At 34 years of age the oldest player in the Top50 (and the second oldest in the Top100), who reached his career-high ranking of #2 the year that David had his breakthrough on the Tour, in 2002.

Tommy Haas, ranked #25 as of this week, is one of the few players on the Tour whose bad luck with injuries exceeds David's - and by some margin. But despite various injuries and surgeries and several very long pauses, Haas always came back again in the end and this season, he has posted some good results, with the title he won at Halle (against Roger Federer in the final) as the obvious highlight, plus the semifinal he reached at Munich (lost to Cilic) and two final appearances, at Hamburg (lost to Pico) and, merely two days ago, at Washington, where he was defeated by Alexandr Dolgolpolov in three sets. And perhaps, Haas will still be bit tired from his week at Washington.

In terms of the match-up, Tommy Haas is the exact sort of player to cause David trouble
- and the match record shows it. They've met three times so far and Haas won all three of their encounters, the most recent of which took place at the Australian Open 2007. Five and a half years ago but Haas still has a game that combines a couple of factors, destined to make things difficult for David. A serve that in the past David didn't find easy to break. A strong backhand that Haas can use to exploit David's weaker forehand and movement on that side, especially by going down the line. And an aggressive game that includes attacks at the net, not giving David the rhythm from the baseline that he likes. In short, for David, it'll be crucial to try and play this match on his own terms, instead of reacting to Haas. In the course of their three previous matches, David managed to win two sets. Here's hoping that he can add another two today.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Brief Update

(Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Ahead of  David's first match of the North American hardcourt swing, a brief look at the rankings: He moves up 3 places this week and is now ranked inside the Top40 again, at #38.

Apart from that, yesterday was of course the last day of the Olympic tennis competition at Wimbledon, with Andy Murray overcoming Roger Federer in the final but also with Delpo winning the bronze-medal match against Novak Djokovic.
And last night, the following tweet appeared on the Twitter of David's official site, congratulating Delpo on having won the first medal for their country at the London Olympics:

Meanwhile, David is training at Toronto, getting ready for his first match that will take place on Tuesday. And for his opponent, Tommy Haas, that means he'll only have one day between the final of Washington yesterday (which he lost in three sets to Alexandr Dolgopolov) and their encounter in the first round of Toronto, tomorrow.
Here's a video of David, practicing with Charly Berlocq (filmed on Saturday).

Another clip of that practice session here.
And tomorrow: David's first match of the North American hardcourt swing.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Toronto Draw

(Getty Images)

The Canadian Masters event may struggle a bit this year, due to its place in the calendar, directly after the London Olympics. But the organisers definitely know how to pull off a surprise. At first, nobody knew when the draw ceremony would take place. And then all of a sudden, without warning, the draw materialised on the tournament website...
Anyway, so here it is, David's draw for Toronto, the first event of the North American hardcourt swing. He has been drawn into the top half and there into the top, i.e. Djokovic's quarter:

[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs BYE
QUALIFIER vs Bernard Tomic (AUS)
Sam Querrey (USA) v Jürgen Melzer (AUT)
BYE vs [13] Kei Nishikori (JPN)

[9] Gilles Simon (FRA) vs BYE
Tommy Haas (GER) vs David Nalbandian (ARG)
Radek Stepanek (CZE) vs Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)
BYE vs [6] Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG)

Complete draw here.

This time, David couldn't be drawn against a seeded player. But it's still far from an easy opponent that he'll get to face in the first round. Tommy Haas (at #36 currently ranked five placed above David) is one of the few players on the Tour who has a perfect record against David. They've met three times so far and on all three occasions, Haas prevailed, though it's been five and a half years since their last meeting (at the Australian Open 2007). Haas has shown himself to be in good form of late and chances are that this is going to be a tough match for David.
Should he make it past Tommy Haas, the first seeded player he'd get to meet would be Gilles Simon in the second round. David has a 2-1 record against Simon and won their last two meetings, the most recent of which took place at São Paulo, this year.
And then in the third round, we could theoretically get an all-Argentine match-up that hasn't happened since 2008 - David vs Delpo. But it's still a long way until then, both for David and for Delpo, who will be coming to Toronto straight from his bronze-medal match, due to take place tomorrow.
And first of all, it's the "battle of the veterans" - David against Tommy Haas.

Edit: Some pics of David, training at Toronto now on the Photo Page.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Look ahead at Toronto & Cincy

After four months of clay and then grass, for David it's now back to playing on his favourite surface again, and it's also back to the part of the season where two years ago he played his best tennis after hip surgery - the North American hardcourt swing. The last two seasons, David played three events ahead of the US Open, with Washington as an addition to his schedule that turned out great the first time around but then the second time not so very.
This time, Washington fell victim to the Olympics, and that leaves the two Masters events that traditionally constitute the build-up to the US Open (August 27 - September 9).
Here's a look at what's ahead in the coming weeks.

Rogers Cup, Masters Toronto (August 6-12)

(Getty Images)

This year, it's Toronto's turn again to host the Canadian Masters event, the only one that takes place in two different cities, Toronto and Montréal. And with the upcoming edition, Toronto will take a 5-4 lead, as far as David's appearances are concerned. David's best ever result at this event happened at Montréal, with the final he reached back in 2003. But whereas apart from that final appearance it's been early exits for David at Montréal (including his first-round loss to Stanislas Wawrinka, last year), at Toronto he made it to the quarterfinal stage twice, at what was his first edition in 2002, as well as at the most recent one, two years ago. Back then, after victories over David Ferrer and Robin Söderling, it was Andy Murray, who beat David in the quarterfinal and put an end to his eleven-match winning streak. Still, Toronto's Rexall Centre should be a place of good memories.
Just like at the previous Masters events this year, David won't be seeded. But unlike at the previous Masters events this year, not everybody is going to be there. The list of withdrawals already includes Rafa Nadal, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Gael Monfils, Stanislas Wawrinka and Juan Carlos Ferrero. More are expected to follow.
Edit: Roger Federer, Nicolas Almagro and Andy Roddick have pulled out as well.
The draw for Toronto will be made on Saturday. The exact time I still have to find out.

Western & Southern Open, Masters Cincinnati (August 13-19)

(tournament website)

It's traditionally the last of the three US hardcourt Masters events and for most players, it's the last tournament ahead of the US Open. But for David, it's also something else - the Cincinnati Masters, held in Mason, Ohio and also simply known as Cincy, is traditionally his worst of all Masters events. In the course of his seven appearances at this tournament so far, he reached one quarterfinal and he beat Roger Federer on his way to it, back in 2003. But apart from that, and in more recent times, his third-round defeat against Novak Djokovic in 2010 has been David's best result at Cincy, where he usually goes out in either the first or the second round. Last year, following his poor performance at Montréal, David managed to beat Kei Nishikori in the first round before he lost to Andy Murray in the second, with what was perhaps the worst serve perfomance I ever saw from him.
If David was asked to make a list of his favourite tournaments then I'm pretty sure that Cincy wouldn't be on it. But as it's going to be, also for David, the last event ahead of the US Open he'll certainly try his best to get as many matches as possible - if he gets the chance.
While at Toronto, not everybody is going to be there, chances are that they will all be back in time for Cincy. And David, once more unseeded, will have to hope for a bit of luck with the draw - for a change.
The draw for Cincy will be made on Friday, August 10, at 5.30pm local.