Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Brief Update - In a Lighter Vein

(@diegotorres)
How to get over a painful defeat like the one David suffered on Monday? One way of doing it is to move on to London and to spend some time with your friends. Last night, together with his good friend Adolfo Cambiaso, David attended a show by Argentine singer Diego Torres (seen here between David and Cambiaso; thanks, Mira for the pic) at the KOKO in London.
And it looks like he had a pretty good time.


Meanwhile back in Paris, after his four-set victory over Adrian Ungur yesterday, Roger Federer talked to the Argentine media, in the wake of confirming his visit to Buenos Aires in December. During that visit, he'll play an exhibition match against Delpo. But when it comes to the question of who's the best Argentine player he has played against, Federer has his own preferences.
It's probably going to be between Nalbandian and Del Potro, I guess. And Coria was great but Nalbandian is still playing and Del Potro obviously won a Grand Slam. But I always admire Nalbandian's game, just his accuracy on the shots. That he was able to put it wherever he wanted. On any given day he could really beat you easily, [on] any surface. I think he's one of the only [few] players to make semis at all the four Grand Slams and then obviously we had that mega match in Shanghai, when he beat me 7-6 in the fifth. And we went through juniors, I lost to him at the US Open juniors, I beat him then in the semis at the Orange Bowl, getting to world number one. So I have a soft spot for Nalbandian's game, just because I've seen so much of it, and time and time again he impressed me.
(Transcribed from an audio clip by Fue Buena.)
Finally, in case some of you haven't seen it yet (Mira linked it in the comments - thanks!):
A different kind of interview with David...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"I wasn't able to take the initiative" - David's Loss to Ungur

"Throughout the match I wasn't able to take the initiative the way I would've liked to."
A statement from David that sums up his performance yesterday and also what went wrong during this match that ended with Adrian Ungur prevailing 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, sealing David's first ever first-round exit at Roland Garros. The vast majority of those three hours the match took, David spent trapped a few metres behind the baseline, chasing down Ungur's shots or rushing forward, trying to counter his drop-shots. Reacting to his opponent rather than acting, himself. Never really finding a way of executing his own game and growing increasingly frustrated in the process.
You always, until the very last moment, think about what you can do to come back, what to change. Today, it didn't work out.
(Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images)
From the start, Ungur dominated most of the rallies. And it was especially his backhand that caused David all sorts of trouble and would continue to do so throughout the match. Early on, at 2-1 for Ungur, David dropped his serve on a couple of unforced errors. And also because David couldn't seem to find his returns, this one break proved to be enough for Ungur to take the first set 6-3.

During the second set, David was still playing too passively but at least managed to hold serve more easily than before. They stayed on serve until at 6-5 for David, Ungur, serving to stay in the set, went down 0-40, granting David his first break points of the match. Eventually, he took the fifth he got in this game and with it the second set, 7-5.

(Bernat Armangue/AP Photo)
At this point, it seemed like David might gain some momentum now but at the start of the third set, he immediately lost his serve again, once more on a couple of unforced errors. David saved further break points at 3-1 and unlike at the beginning of the match he now had some chances to break Ungur, at 3-2 and then also when Ungur served for the set at 5-4. David had but couldn't convert two break points during that game and eventually, Ungur closed out the third set, 6-4.

During the fourth set, David visibly tried to play more aggressively and get closer to the baseline. At 2-1, he had two chances to break but once again didn't make it (he ended up converting only one of the eleven break points he had in this match). With David playing a bit better now, especially during his own service games, they remained on serve until at 5-5, David handed Ungur a break point with a drop-shot into the net and then committed his eighth double fault of the match. With Ungur serving for the match afterwards, David had one last break point. But Ungur responded with an ace and then finished off what was a very good match from him by converting his second match point.

Sometimes, David plays matches where it doesn't necessarily look like he really cares about what comes out of it in the end. Matches, where he seems disinterested. But this was not one of them. David was obviously frustrated, smashed his racquet several times and kept berating himself for the "shit" (quote) he was playing. Still, he fought, even deep behind the baseline, and actually, he was moving as well as I've seen him move on clay since hip surgery. More often than not, his movement is the main cause for concern and usually also the reason if he makes too many unforced errors. But many of those 37 unforced errors he made in this match, often at crucial moments, seemed to be more the result of, quite simply, helplessness. Most of the time, David was unable to put Ungur under pressure with his shots, so he ended up taking more and more risks - and also often going for the wrong shot.
Obviously, I didn't play a good match today and I also didn't feel really good. I have ups and downs, I come and go during matches. I can't find a precise explanation, it's rather complicated. I also haven't won that many matches this year, so I don't have confidence. That's what's been happening. Year after year it gets more difficult for me, new players arrive on the scene all the time, the pace gets higher and that costs you.
The last two seasons were most of all a struggle with constant injuries, pauses and comebacks. And yet, in-between all of that David managed to play some great tennis. Occasionally even while being injured, like with his victory over Ungur in Davis Cup last year. This season, there have been no injuries and pauses but two semifinals and two quarterfinals for David, with his run at Indian Wells as the highlight, so far. But still, it seems that his results don't really match the expectations he probably had for an injury-free season.
After three surgeries it's very difficult to regain the high level that I had at some points [during my career]. And that's natural, that's what happens to everybody. It's a process I have to deal with but I'm in the middle of the season, there's still a lot of events to play. I have to keep moving forward and see what happens.
Now, if David talks about looking ahead at what's still to come this season, it's clear of course what he's really talking about:
It's still ages until Davis Cup, it's May now. I need to keep on working in order to be in the best possible shape by September.
(David's quotes from the clip above, this clip, La Nacion & Infobae.com)
(Reuters)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Roland Garros R1 - David vs Adrian Ungur

(Reuters)
UpdateII
It was David's comeback at Roland Garros after four years - but after just under three hours, it was all over. For in the end, it was Adrian Ungur, who prevailed 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5.
A poor match from David, who played too passively and allowed himself to get pushed behind the baseline. Never really playing the match on his own terms.

The good news is that David has played a full clay-court swing without any injuries. And also, that this defeat won't have any consequences for his chances of qualifying for the Olympics. Unless Chela reaches the semifinal at Roland Garros, David will make it to the Olympics.

His next stop will now be the Queen's Club (June 11-17).

A first round of photos now on the Photo Page, report coming tomorrow.



(Getty Images/Mediafax; montage by VD)














Update
12.25pm local - the first match on Court 6 has already finished. Next up now: David...

When David played his last match at Roland Garros, Roger Federer was still #1 in the world, and had been for years. And David was ranked #7. It was the year after his run at Madrid and Paris. And he came to Roland Garros, having won the Copa Telmex and having reached the final at Acapulco, the longest winning streak of his career at the time. Back then, clay was just another, and not a potentially dangerous surface for him to play on. Though already back then, David was carrying the hip injury that would change the course of his career...
Today, four years later, almost exactly to the day, David finally plays a match at Roland Garros again. And he gets to face someone he'll remember from Davis Cup.

27-year-old Adrian Ungur is, at #91, currently ranked as high as he's ever been in his career. Mostly because of his results at clay-court Challengers: Ungur reached the final of three of those, this season. At the ATP-level, however, he hasn't made it past the first round at any of the tournaments he played this year, while at the three clay-court Masters events he didn't manage to get through qualifying.

As mentioned before, David (still ranked #40 this week) and Adrian Ungur met in Davis Cup last year. A match that David played despite suffering from an acute case of hernia and won despite suffering an additional adductor injury during it, both of which required surgery. And basically all I remember from that match is the injury drama (and the tears).
But what's clear is that Ungur is a clay-courter, who will give David the rhythm he likes but who will also try to entangle him in long rallies. While David will try to take control of the points and keep them short.
After four years, today it's welcome back to Roland Garros.
And here's hoping that it's going to be a good new start for David.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Exhibition Intermezzo: Epilogue

UpdateII (28/05)
More photos, from the Masters Guinot Mary Cohr as well as from David's training sessions at Roland Garros on the weekend now on the Photo Page, courtesy of Denise.


Update
Roland Garros is the only Slam where play starts on Sunday - but not for David.
His first-round match against Adrian Ungur will take place on Monday.

Here's a little something to pass the time, ahead of Roland Garros: two clips that Denise (thanks!) filmed at the Masters Guinot Mary Cohr exhibition, yesterday.
One during David's match against Julien Benneteau...


... and one of him, saying a couple of words, afterwards.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Roland Garros Draw

(Getty Images)
Four years after David's last appearance, today finally a draw for Roland Garros was made with David's name once again in it. Unseeded, he could've faced anybody in the first round, including Rafael Nadal. And he got lucky with his first-round opponent - but not so much with the second round...
David has been drawn into the top half and there into the bottom, that is to say Roger Federer's quarter, the upper half of which looks like this:

[3] Roger Federer (SUI) vs Tobias Kamke (GER)
Adrian Ungur (ROU) vs David Nalbandian (ARG)
Frank Dancevic (CAN) vs Martin Klizan (SVK)
Nicolas Mahut (FRA) vs [26] Andy Roddick (USA)

[23] Radek Stepanek (CZE) vs [Q] David Goffin (BEL)
[W] Arnaud Clement (FRA) vs Alex Bogomolov Jr. (RUS)
Karol Beck (SVK) vs Lukasz Kubot (POL)
[Q] Florent Serra (FRA) vs [15] Feliciano Lopez (ESP)

A look at the complete draw you can take here.

Against his first-round opponent Adrian Ungur (currently #91), David has played before - on clay and best-of-five in what was probably his most dramatic match of the last season, during last year's Davis Cup first-round tie against Romania. Back then, an injured David beat Ungur in four sets.
In the second round, however, Roger Federer awaits...

Update
David has won the last match of the Masters Guinot Mary Cohr exhibition. In the "battle of the captains", he beat Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-2.
Edit: More photos now on the Photo Page.

(event website)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Exhibition Intermezzo: Masters Guinot Mary Cohr

(event website)

Ahead of Wimbledon, there's Boodles (David still hasn't been confirmed for this year's edition). And ahead of Roland Garros, there's the Masters Guinot Mary Cohr exhibition, which starts today at the Paris Country Club. Offering players a chance to play a test match on the same clay and with the same balls that are used at Roland Garros.
But while Boodles takes place more or less in form of a small tournament, this exhibition features eighteen players, facing off in nine matches, three per day and with a champions (or super) tiebreak played in the third set.

To put all these matches into a bigger context and make things more interesting, the players have been divided into two teams, the "Équipe Guinot" (red) and the "Équipe Mary Cohr" (green). Each team has a "captain" and I'm not sure how they were chosen but in any case, David is the captain of the red team (including, amongst others, Delpo, Pico and Andy Murray). And as such, he'll get to face Julien Benneteau, captain of the green team, in the third match on Friday, the last match of the event.

As far as the chances of watching David play are concerned, the good news is that there's a stream for the Masters Guinot Mary Cohr. But the bad news is that Bet365 and LSH only have the first two matches of the day on their list.
Edit: Eurosport apparently only shows the first two matches. So right now it looks like there won't be a stream for David's match.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rankings Update

A little later than usual, due to the postponed final, but here it is now at last, a look at the rankings situation after the Rome Masters. David moves up two positions this week to #40, still with 1005 ranking points. Now, don't ask me why but his 45 second-round points from Rome seem to have replaced his 45 quarterfinal points from São Paulo, which he's apparently no longer able to count in. So his overall amount of ranking points stays the same.

That David still moves up two places this week is also the result of last year's points from the World Team Cup having come off already - with consequences especially for Juan Ignacio Chela. Having dropped 125 points from last year's WTC, Chela loses six places this week and has now fallen behind David, at #43 (with 970 points). In other words, David is now the fourth Argentine player in the rankings. Chela is playing the WTC this week and still has the chance to regain some ground. But he hasn't played singles, so far and he continues to struggle with injury problems, ahead of Roland Garros where he'll have 360 points to defend.
Carlos Berlocq, who's also playing the WTC this week (and has won his first singles match), is still ranked three places above David, at #37 (with 1060 points).

At the moment, there's no news from David and I can't tell you whether he's still in Rome or whether he has by now moved on to Paris. But later this week, he's scheduled to play an exhibition match, as part of the Masters Guinot Mary Cohr exhibition at the Paris Country Club. This match is planned to take place on Friday (the same day the draw for Roland Garros will come out), against Julien Benneteau, who has apparently taken up training again after his injury at Monte Carlo. As always with exhibitions, things may still change, also at the last minute. But I'll try my best to keep you posted.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Look ahead at Roland Garros

(Getty Images)

















When the courts at the Stade Roland Garros were prepared last year, it was already known that once again, David wouldn't be among those, playing on them. Missing out on the clay-court Slam for a third consecutive time. And back then, a year ago, it began to look like playing best-of-five matches on clay was a risk David might only be willing to take for the sake of Davis Cup. This year, however, having already contested a total of eighteen matches on clay (including three five-setters in Davis Cup) without any real injury troubles, David will finally return to the Stade Roland Garros in Paris.

- Thirteen years after making his very first appearance at what's also known as the French Open. Back in 1999, David played his only junior edition of the clay-court Slam and made it to the final, which he lost against his doubles partner Guillermo "El Mago" Coria. After turning pro, David played Roland Garros from 2002 through to 2008, making this year's his altogether eighth appearance.

One of David's claims to fame is that he's among the few players to have reached the semifinal at all four Slams (and he's the only active player apart from the Top4, I think). But out of the four, Roland Garros is the only Slam where he managed to do it twice. In 2004, he lost to Gaston Gaudio, the eventual surprise champion, whereas in 2006, after a great start against Roger Federer, an abdominal strain forced David to retire.

In the past, David had some great and very dramatic matches at Roland Garros. And his last one so far was rather dramatic as well - but not in any positive sense. Back in 2008, in his second-round match against Jeremy Chardy, David led by two sets to love when his hip injury flared up again. But instead of retiring, he finished the match and lost in five sets. During the last couple of years, it seemed increasingly likely that this match might go down as David's last at Roland Garros. Now we know that fortunately, this won't be the case.
The expectations have to be different at this point, compared to the past. And as David won't be seeded, an awful lot will depend on the draw and on hopefully having a bit of luck with it. But still, this is it, the big stage and the kind of tournament that David loves to play. And now he's finally healthy enough again to even give Roland Garros, the toughest of them all, a try.

The draw for Roland Garros will be made next Friday, at 11.30am local time.

(Getty Images)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An Unfortunate Defeat - David Loses to Murray


Update (18/05)
Lots of photos that Denise (thank you so much!) took at Rome and also at Madrid you can now view on the Photo Page. Roland Garros preview post coming tomorrow.

Around forty minutes into this match, it looked like it was a catastrophe in the making.
David had just lost his serve for a third consecutive time after a fifteen-minute deuce battle. And when Andy Murray afterwards easily closed out the first set it looked like the match was a one-way street, leading to a quick and rather ugly defeat for David.
Around two hours later, Murray served out the match, eventually taking it 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.
But after what had happened during those two hours, it was by no means an ugly defeat for David - it simply was a rather unfortunate one...

At the beginning of the first set, David immediately went down a double break before breaking Murray to win his only game of this set, for 4-1. Returning well from the start, David basically had more chances during his return games than on serve (including further break points). Also because Murray kept punishing David's second serve, allowing him merely two points on it in this set. Apart from that, David was making far too many unforced errors at this stage, often enough when going for the decisive shot at the end of what had been a nicely set-up point. After losing his serve again at the end of the above-mentioned epic deuce battle, David started arguing with umpire Lahyani about what seemed to be the visibility on court. His frustration was obvious and Murray easily taking the first set didn't make it any better.

(Filippo Monteforte/AFP/GettyImages)
The second set, however, began with a premiere - David held serve for the first time in the match. Merely a flicker of hope at that point but it was from that moment on that the tide began to turn. Basically from out of nowhere, David now cruised through his service games, dropping merely five points on serve in this set, while cutting down on the unforced errors and playing better and better tennis. The only thing missing was a break. But as David had served first in this set, at 5-4 Murray had to serve to stay in it and now it was his turn to face a deuce battle. David saved two game points before eventually converting his third set point to take the second set 6-4.

Going into the decider, the momentum now seemed to be firmly on David's side but at 1-1, he was the first to come under pressure on serve, for the first time since the first set. But David saved two break points and held for 2-1. And returning especially Murray's first serves amazingly well at this stage, he went on to break Murray in the following game, with Murray double-faulting on break point. But as is too often the case, David's break turned out to be short-lived as he followed it up with his worst service game of the entire match, losing his serve to love. After this exchange of breaks they remained on serve and after Murray had easily held to stay in the match, at 5-5 David went down 0-40 on serve again. And after he had saved two break points, a backhand from Murray clipped the net and dropped down on David's side of the net, granting Murray the break and the chance to serve out the match. David did have his chances in that final game, in the form of two break points. But Murray saved both (with his winning shot only just catching the line on the second) and then converted his first match point.

In the end, and though it didn't look like it after the first set, it was a very close (and highly entertaining) match and an unfortunate defeat for David. With a couple of points and also the luck that Murray had (on his birthday) tipping the scales. Directly after the match that makes it only more difficult to accept a defeat like that - because it was close and "higher powers" seemed to be at work. But that it was so close also means that despite the terrible start David was able to make it close, he was more than able to hang with Andy Murray for over two and a half hours. Playing his best tennis in sets two and three since Indian Wells - perhaps even of the whole season, given the surface and the quality of his opponent.
It's no secret that David enjoys playing on the big stage and against the top guys. And that it's matches like this one where you're bound to see David playing his best tennis. With this match, even though he lost it in the end, David proved once again that he's still able to keep up with the top guys. And I think it might be important for David to know that this is the case when at the end of this year he'll decide whether he's going to retire or play another season.

From Rome, David will now be heading on to Paris for the final stage of his comeback tour around the European clay-court events - Roland Garros. Ahead of it, he's scheduled to take part in the Masters Guinot Mary Cohr exhibition next week.

(Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rome R2 - David vs Andy Murray















UpdateII
After the first set (during which David didn't manage to hold serve once) it looked like this match would turn into a complete debacle. But even if in the end, it was Andy Murray, who prevailed 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 after two hours and 37 minutes, in sets two three David played some amazing tennis. And that's hopefully what he'll be able to take from this match.

Photos and everything else tomorrow...


(AP Photo/Getty Images; montage by VD)
















Update
5.23pm local - David's match is now next up on the Campeo Centrale. At last...

When last week the controversy raged about the blue and slippery courts at Madrid, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic threatening the boycott the tournament next year while Roger Federer won the title in the end, the only top player who didn't take part in the debate, nor in the tournament itself, was Andy Murray. Having pulled out of Madrid, he spent the last week in Rome, getting ready for this event and for this match, his first one at Rome, this year.

For Andy Murray, ranked #4, there's been only one tournament this season where he didn't at least make it to the quarterfinal. That was Indian Wells, where he went out in the second round. But apart from that, Murray won the title at Brisbane, he was a finalist at Dubai and Miami and reached the semifinal at the Australian Open. On clay, Murray has had two quarterfinal appearances so far, at Monte Carlo (lost to Berdych) and Barcelona (lost to Raonic).

Today's match will be the seventh meeting between David and Andy Murray and by now, the match record stands at 4-2 for Murray. The last five of their six matches so far I covered here on VD (Paris 2008, Toronto 2010, Paris 2010, Cincy 2011 and Tokyo 2011), among them the four defeats in a row that David suffered the last four times they met.
What their previous matches have shown, including those that David lost, is that he usually has a shot at breaking Murray's serve - but also that Murray won't let David get away with playing any sloppy service games of his own. In most of their previous matches they were fairly evenly matched from the baseline so in the end, it was the serve and the ability to hold serve that made the difference. Whether it'll be the same again today, in what's going to be their first ever encounter on clay - the match will give the answers.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Benvenuti a Roma - David Overcomes Ramos


Having missed the last three editions of this event due to injury, David made his comeback at the Internazionale BNL d'Italia, also known as the Rome Masters, today. And overcoming not only his opponent Albert Ramos but also the very windy conditions on court, after an hour an 37 minutes David eventually prevailed 6-3, 6-4. A victory that could've been easier than it was in the end but all in all, it was a good match from David. Still, in the second round tomorrow, a different kind of test is going to await David in the shape of fourth seed Andy Murray.

After David faced and managed to save a first break point at 1-1, Ramos gifted David a break with a double fault in the following game, allowing him to go up 3-1. It was the only time that Ramos came under pressure on serve in the first set but that one break David carried through the first set without facing any further difficulties or break points. At 5-3, David served for the set and finally managed to convert his third set point, taking the first set 6-3.

At the beginning of the second set, David immediately broke Ramos and then consolidated his break for a 2-0 lead. And when he extended that lead to a double break and 4-1, it looked like the match would soon be over. The double break turned out to be short-lived, however, as David dropped his serve in the following game (for 4-2) but only to then break Ramos again afterwards. Up 5-2, David served for the match but with his first serve deserting him at that moment, Ramos was able to break back. With Ramos serving to stay in the match at 5-3, David held a first match point but couldn't convert it before eventually serving out the match at the second time of asking, 6-4.

It was very windy in Rome today, the kind of conditions that David really doesn't like and that usually affect especially his serve. But apart from getting broken twice towards the end of the match (and most of all when serving for it) David's serve was fairly solid today. With Ramos giving David the kind of rhythm that he likes while not really managing to put him under too much pressure, David was often enough able to take the initiative during the rallies, to construct points and also finish them at the net. In short, David played most of this match on his terms. Whether he'll be able to do the same against Murray tomorrow - we'll find out.

(Andrew Medichini/AP Photo)

Rome R1 - David vs Albert Ramos















UpdateII
David has won his first match at Rome since 2008, defeating Albert Ramos 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 37 minutes. After a straightforward first set, David got broken when he served for the match but then managed to close it out on his second attempt.
In the second round, David's next opponent will now be fourth seed Andy Murray.

More tonight...


(abiertomextenis.com/teniselespinar.com; montage by VD)













Update
3.06pm local - David's match is now next up on Pietrangeli.

Ahead of focusing of David's first-round encounter today, his first match at Rome in four years, here's a look at the rankings situation this week. With the points from last year's edition of Rome already gone now (and with ten points for the first round in Madrid added to David's, as well as Chela's and Berlocq's count), David is now ranked #42 with 1005 ranking points, 55 points behind Carlos Berlocq (#38) and 80 behind Chela (#37).
And at #39, between David and his two countrymen, there's David's opponent today.

24-year-old Albert Ramos from Spain is a clay specialist, who cracked the Top100 for the first time last summer. And that he has now reached what's the highest ranking in his career so far is mostly the consequence of his results on clay. With the final he reached at Casablanca (lost to Andujar) and two semifinals, at São Paulo (lost to Almagro) and more recently at Estoril (lost to Gasquet) as his best results of this season. Last week at Madrid, Ramos lost in the first round to Federico Delbonis.
Ramos was the highest-ranked player who had to play qualies at Rome and he beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Gianluca Naso for a place in the main draw.

David and Albert Ramos have never met on the Tour before. And to be honest, I've never seen Ramos play. So I can't really tell you anything about the match-up. What's clear, though is that David will find himself dealing with a leftie today. And with a clay-courter.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rome Draw

Update (13/05)
David will play his first-round match against Albert Ramos, the top seed of the qualifying event (and currently ranked above David, at #39) tomorrow. It's going to be their first encounter.


Most of the time, draw ceremonies are held at the tournament venue. Today's ceremony for the Rome Masters, however, took place at one of the most famous and popular tourist sites of the city, the Piazza di Spagna. And here's what came out of it for David.
He has been drawn into the bottom half, where he finds himself in Andy Murray's quarter, which looks like this:

[6] David Ferrer (ESP) vs BYE
Fernando Verdasco (ESP) vs Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)
[Q] Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs Pablo Andujar (ESP)
Donald Young (USA) vs [11] Gilles Simon (FRA)

[16] Richard Gasquet (FRA) vs Jürgen Melzer (AUT)
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) vs [WC] Paolo Lorenzi (ITA)
[Q] Albert Ramos (ESP) vs David Nalbandian (ARG)
BYE vs [4] Andy Murray (GBR)

The complete draw you'll find here.

So who's going to be David's opponent in the first round has yet to be decided (the final round of qualifying takes place tomorrow). But in the second round, David is bound to face someone he has already met several times before, fourth seed Andy Murray. Four out of their six meetings so far (match record 4-2 for Murray) took place at Masters events. But if they now also get to meet at Rome, it's going to be their first ever encounter on clay.

(tennisitaliano.it)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rome Update

(Getty Images)

After a brief intermezzo on the blue clay of Madrid, next week it's back to the more traditional version of clay for David, at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, also known as the Rome Masters.
And the good news of the day is that David won't have to play qualies. Thanks to a couple more withdrawals and the clearing of the Special Exempt spot, David is now officially in the main draw, as announced on the tournament website (Italian version).

Update (11/05)
The draw ceremony will take place on Saturday, at noon, local time.

Apart from that, here's a clip of David, training today at the SD Tennis Academy in Madrid:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Madrid Blues... David Falls to Raonic


Now there's Raonic, who's 20 years old [21 by now] and serves like a machine.
When David said those words during an interview last year, he couldn't know of course that they would turn out to be prophetic. Fourteen months later, during their first encounter on the Tour today, Milos Raonic did serve like a machine. Winning 100% of his first serves and dropping a total of six points on serve throughout the match. David on the other hand lost his serve twice, and at the worst possible moments, resulting in Milos Raonic's 6-4, 6-4 victory.

(Andres Kudacki/AP Photo)
David began this match without his first serve and consequently got broken in the very first game. Not the best start against any opponent but against Raonic today, as soon became clear - a catastrophe. Already in his first service game, Raonic hit the first three of his altogether 16 aces. Setting the tone for what was ahead. After the initial break, David grew much more solid on serve and lost only four further points on serve in the course of this set. But 30-30 on Raonic's serve (at 3-1) was as close as David managed to get to a chance to break. In the first set and the entire match. Perhaps the most unusual game took place at 5-3, with David serving to stay in the set. For it was at that moment that he played his best service game of the match. But although in the following game Raonic threw in a double fault on his first set point, he went on to convert the second, 6-4.

Early on in the second set, David (now visibly more and more frustrated) began to find it slightly more difficult to hold serve. But it wasn't until 3-3 that he had to face another break point. A backhand error from Raonic and a couple of deuces later, David managed to get through to 4-3. And his next service game at 4-4 looked like a more straightforward affair until up 30-0, David committed three unforced errors in a row before finally dropping his serve on a double fault. An invitation to serve out the match that Raonic accepted, of course. Converting his first match point in style - with his last ace of the day.

It was not at all a bad match that David played at the Caja Magica today. During the rallies (which mostly occurred during his service games), he did a good job of keeping Raonic busy and from unleashing his forehand. Whether by going to his backhand, moving him around the court or playing with slice. And all in all, it was fairly clean match from him, with 15 winners and 16 unforced errors.
But the huge problem for David simply was Raonic's serve today. The completely unassailable first serve but also Raonic's kick serve on second. It's not often that you get to see David awaiting second serves several metres behind the baseline, on a regular basis.

A few words about the court. As other player described it ahead of this match, it definitely looked to be rather slippery. There were various occasions where David seemed to be losing his footing. And although he's not supposed to slide on clay he did in this match, as there simply seemed to be no way of avoiding it. But at least, he finished the match safe and sound. - Though very much frustrated. Madrid, in its old form, used to be David's best tournament. But that event, together with its nimbus, is officially gone now. And perhaps, he also felt a bit old today...

(Andres Kudacki/AP Photo)

Madrid R1 - David vs Milos Raonic















Update
Two poor service games, one in the first set and one in the second, made the difference in the end, as David couldn't find a way of making any inroads on Raonic's serve, let alone break it. So after an hour and 14 minutes, it was the young Canadian, who prevailed 6-4, 6-4.

More tonight...


(Getty Images/AP Photo; montage by VD)













Last week, David got to face two young players in the early rounds. And chances are that he had no idea of what was going await him on court. Today, David gets to face another young player. But this time, he'll know what he's in for. At last year's Copa Claro, David still hadn't heard of Milos Raonic. But a month later, he mentioned him in an interview as an example of the up-and-coming generation of new players. And during the Australian Open this year, they practiced together. So even though this is their first official meeting, David will know what he's up against.

21-year-old Milos Raonic is what you could call the top newcomer on the Tour. At the beginning of the last season he was still ranked outside the Top150. Since then, he has moved up to currently #23 (his highest ranking so far) and he has won altogether three titles. Two of which came earlier this year, at Chennai and San Jose, plus a final appearance at Memphis. But although he has had his best results on hardcourt, Raonic has shown that he's also able to do well on clay. Most recently at Barcelona, where he reached the semifinal (lost to David Ferrer).

Milos Raonic's biggest weapon is of course his serve but with his attacking game and especially with his forehand he's also able to dictate play during the rallies. Unless David can find a way of keeping him busy and on the back foot. In the past, David usually did well against big servers with an offensive game. Whether he's currently in the kind of form to do so again today - that remains to be seen.
The other big uncertainty factor in this match is the surface, the blue clay at the Caja Magica. Other players have described it as slippery, rather fast and not as high-bouncing as a more traditional clay court. While David's opinion is still unknown. But although he usually prefers faster surfaces, in the case of this match it'll also favour his opponent.
In short, this will be a very tough test for David.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rankings Update

It's Monday and ahead of David's first-round match at Madrid (which will take place tomorrow), it's time to have a look at the rankings and the situation after Belgrade. Having gained 90 ranking points for making the semifinal, David moves up six positions this week to #43.

But with those 995 points he now has in total, where does he stand, in terms of his chances of qualifying for the Olympics? As mentioned before, it's the rankings on June 11, the Monday after Roland Garros, that will decide which players get to represent their countries at the London Olympics. And if David wants to be among those four players, representing Argentina, he needs to overtake at least one of the four Argentine players, currently ranked above him. With Juan Ignacio Chela and Carlos Berlocq as the possible candidates, who both withdrew from Estoril last week, due to injury problems, but who will both apparently be playing Madrid.

At the moment, David is 170 points behind Chela (#36) and 81 points behind Berlocq (#38). Until the qualifying "deadline" on June 11, David will play the Masters events at Madrid and Rome and then Roland Garros, without any points to defend. Whereas apart from those tournaments, Chela and Berlocq will also play the World Team Cup.

Until June 11, Carlos Berlocq only has a total of 71 points to defend at Rome and Roland Garros. Juan Ignacio Chela on the other hand will be defending 575 points in the coming weeks. 90 at Rome, 125 at the World Team Cup and 360 from reaching the quarterfinal at Roland Garros, last year.
Had he won the title at Belgrade, David would've moved ahead of Berlocq and he would've come within 10 points of Chela. But as it is, he's still not too far away from both of them.
And also because of the huge amount of points that Chela has to defend, David's quest of making it to the London Olympics is still far from over. And it won't be, even if he doesn't manage to get very far at Madrid.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Missed Opportunity... David Loses to Seppi

(Mirko Jovanovic/tournament website)
At 1-0, 30-30 in the third set, something happened that had already happened several times during the match, in the same or in similar form. The net cord transformed David's return into an unplayable drop-shot. And not for the first time in this match, a lucky net cord granted David a break point. But today, neither his repeated luck with the net, nor a 4-1 lead in the final set were enough help for David to get the win. And in the end, after an hour and 52 minutes, it was Andreas Seppi, who prevailed 2-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Even if during the first set, it looked like this match was headed in a very different direction. With the majority of rallies being conducted from the baseline, David's groundstrokes had enough accuracy and depth to put Seppi under constant pressure. And on return, especially his aggressive second-serve returns allowed David immediate control of the rallies.
He broke Seppi to love to go up 3-1 and profiting from the Italian's many unforced errors at this stage (which were also the result of David's dominance) he maintained his lead without difficulties until at 5-2, Seppi served to stay in the set. At that moment, again David's second-serve returns made the difference and with another of those, drawing the error, he broke once more to take the first set 6-2.

The second set, that would eventually see a complete reversal of roles, began just like the first one, with Seppi making too many unforced errors. Up 1-0, David had an early break point (set up by a lucky net cord) but failed to convert it. And perhaps, this was the very moment that changed the course of this match. As it was from that moment on that David's dominance began to fade. With his groundstrokes now lacking more and more in depth, David found himself getting pushed behind the baseline and trying to defend, rather than dictating play. Seppi broke David for a 3-2 lead and it was then that David's unforced errors count seriously began to rise. At 4-2, Seppi broke again to go up a double break and 5-2 and serving much better in this set, he closed it out to take the second set 6-2.

At the start of the third set, David seemed to be able to make a new start. After holding serve to love (for the only time in the entire match), the above-mentioned net cord granted him a break point, which he converted for a 2-0 lead. While David was now visibly trying to hit his groundstrokes with more depth again, which worked better than it had in the previous set, he still came under pressure in his service games, having to fend off various break points. David managed to scrape through to get to 3-0 and then 4-1. But then, with more and more unforced errors creeping back into David's game, Seppi finally broke back to get to 4-3. At this stage of the match, David was visibly running on empty, physically but he still managed to hold serve until Seppi got the decisive break for 6-5 and then closed out the match.

A major factor was once again David's serve, which already wasn't exactly impressive in the two previous matches. But while back then it merely made things a bit more difficult for him than they would've needed to be, this time his serve, or rather his inability to hold serve, ended up costing him the match. The serve is of course a classic with David. And 7 double faults for a three-set match is far from unusual, while making 62% first serves overall is actually pretty good by his standards. But his serve was simply too harmless, both the first and the second, as evidenced by the only 53% of first serves David won in the second set.

Another obvious problem in this match was that David ran out of gas in the third set. Now, ahead of the European clay-court swing and after the Davis Cup quarterfinal, David paused for three weeks. During those weeks, nothing was to be heard of him. So we don't know how he prepared for these events. In the two previous matches, David wasn't really tested. But watching this match, I couldn't help but think that those ten hours on court within two days in Davis Cup probably took enough out of David to require a longer pause - and less training than perhaps originally planned for those weeks.

Belgrade was supposed to be David's golden opportunity. To win another title but also to gain what could've been up to 250 ranking points. And those would've been extremely helpful for making it to the London Olympics. Now, it's only 90 points that he has gained. Much better than nothing, of course. But still, I guess it's that missed opportunity that will bother David the most about this loss.

(Mirko Jovanovic/tournament website)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Belgrade SF - David vs Andreas Seppi















Update
David's week at Belgrade has ended with a defeat against Andreas Seppi, who prevailed 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 after an hour and 52 minutes. The only positive aspect - a bit more time for David to practice at Madrid...

Edit: As there are still neither photos nor video highlights available from the match, I'm going to wait with my report until tomorrow.



(abiertomextenis.com/dpa; montage by VD)













After defeating two young players from outside the Top100 in his first two matches at Belgrade, in the semifinal today (his second of the season and again on clay, after the Copa Claro) David now gets to face a fellow seeded player. Someone, who's much closer to him in terms of ranking and age. And apart from that, David and Andreas Seppi have met before, though it's been a while.

For second seed Andreas Seppi, 28 years old and at #46 currently ranked three places above David, this is the first semifinal he has been able to reach this season. With three quarterfinal appearances (at Doha, Rotterdam and then also last week at Bucharest, where he lost a close match to Fabio Fognini) as his best results ahead of this week. At Belgrade, Seppi has had two straightforward victories over Ivan Dodig and Gilles Muller.
David and Andreas Seppi have met twice but it's been six years since their last encounter, which took place at Monte Carlo. Back then, David won in straights, just like the first time they met (at Vienna, 2004).

Apart from a similar ranking and age, there's a couple of other things that David and Andreas Seppi have in common. A not necessarily reliable serve, for example. And of course, Seppi looks about as typically Italian as David looks typically Argentinean. But another thing Seppi shares with David is a tendency for drama when it comes to closing out sets or matches. Whether there's going to be drama in tonight's match and if so, who will be responsible for it
- we'll find out.

Madrid Draw


Two years ago, when an injury stopped David at the very last minute from playing his first match at the Caja Magica, it took the organisers a record-breaking five hours to get the draw online. This time, they managed to surprise everyone - by conducting the draw ceremony a day earlier than originally scheduled. So Madrid remains to be an adventure, in terms of blogging. And this year, it will also be an adventure for the players - on blue clay.
But first of all a look at David's draw for his Caja Magica premiere, in all its "glory"...
As mentioned before, he has been drawn into Roger's Federer quarter and not only that, David is bound to meet him in the second round:

[3] Roger Federer (SUI) vs BYE
Milos Raonic (CAN) vs David Nalbandian (ARG)
Viktor Troicki (SRB) vs Donald Young (USA)
Thomaz Bellucci (BRA) vs [14] Richard Gasquet (FRA)

[11] Nicolas Almagro (ESP) vs QUALIFIER
Marcel Granollers (ESP) vs Carlos Berlocq (ARG)
Radek Stepanek (CZE) vs Bernard Tomic (AUS)
BYE vs [5] David Ferrer (ESP)

Complete draw here.

I recall a press conference last year (during the Copa Claro, I think) where David got asked about Milos Raonic and it was obvious that he had no real idea who that was. Perhaps this has changed by now, with the young Canadian having climbed as high as #23 in the rankings. In any case, this is going to be a very tough opening match for David. And should he get through to the second round, Federer awaits...

A couple of days ago, the Madrid tournament website published an interview with David (English version here), during which the interviewer not only told David that he's "one of the most adored players by the Madrid public" but also asked him about his thoughts on the blue clay and what he has heard from other players about this "innovation". His reply:
It does grab your attention and I am looking forward to testing it out not just in terms of how it looks but also how the ball bounces on it.
What has been heard from other players, who are already practicing on it, is that apparently, the blue clay is more slippery than the red one and that the ball tends to stay low, making it more suited for slice than for topspin. Which sounds just like the "very strange" (David's words) court at Bamberg. Whether David will find himself being reminded of it remains to be seen but he'll have very little time to adjust to the conditions. How little time exactly, that will also depend on his semifinal match at Belgrade tonight. More about that soon.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Belgrade QF: David beats Joao Souza



















Update
David has reached the semifinal at Belgrade with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Joao Souza in 72 minutes. In tomorrow's semifinal, once again in the night session, he'll meet second seed Andreas Seppi.

I don't have time to write a report this time but I'll be adding some pics (and, if possible, video highlights) later.

UpdateII
The draw for Madrid is out already (thanks, Mina!).
You can have a look at it here - but it's pretty much a case of worst case scenario for David. First round: Milos Raonic. And if he gets past him: Federer in the second...

More tomorrow...


(Reuters/euamotenis.com; montage by VD)













In football, today's match would be a rather explosive combination - Argentina against Brazil. But in tennis, it simply is David against Joao Souza in the last quarterfinal match of the day at Belgrade. For David, it's the fourth quarterfinal appearance this season and the third one on clay. And it's another match against an opponent he has never met before.

23-year old Joao Souza, ranked #116 this week (the highest he's been ranked was #84, last autumn) belongs to those players who move back and forth between Challengers and playing ATP-level tournaments, if they can get into the main draw. His best result so far in this season was the quarterfinal he reached at Viña del Mar (lost to Juan Ignacio Chela). But since then it's been a series of first-round exits for Souza, both at Challenger and ATP events. A trend he was able to stop this week with his win over seventh seed Ryan Harrison. In the second round, Souza's opponent Dusan Lajovic was forced to retire injured after six games.

Joao Souza is a clay specialist but one who likes to go for his shots (I seem to remember that he has a pretty good backhand) and who likes to come to the net if he gets the chance. In short, David will be faced with more aggressive play than in the previous round.
Another factor could be the weather as some rain is forecast for Belgrade during the day.
Edit: Right now (at 12pm local) it looks like the forecast was wrong and it's going to be another sunny day at Belgrade.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Good Start at Belgrade - David Beats Bedene


After 80 minutes of play and having just sealed his 6-4, 6-3 victory over Aljaz Bedene, David walked over to the net to shake the young Slovenian's hand. On his way, he took off his wrist band to throw it to the crowd. But instead of casting it at the eagerly waiting fans, David managed to hit chair umpire Damien Dumoisis with it (from 9:10 on in the clip above). A little mishap they both had to laugh about. And together with dropping his serve in the second set it was the only blip that David allowed himself last night.

It was David's first match since the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie a month ago, so a bit of rust was to be expected. As well as a slow start. But after initially struggling with the timing on his shots, both on the forehand and the backhand, David quickly found his range and his rhythm.

After having been taken to deuce in his first service game of the match, David had a first couple of break points at 1-1, but Bedene managed to save them. Following the slightly shaky start, David now grew much more solid on serve and didn't face a break point throughout the first set. At 3-3, Bedene set up two further break points for David with two double faults in a row and after saving the first he handed David the break with a forehand error. With Bedene serving at 5-3, David held a first set point but his attempt at a return winner landed wide. But after that David served out the first set to love.

The second set David began with an immediate break. Putting Bedene under constant pressure now with deep returns and also dictating most of the rallies. At 2-0, David broke again, going up a double break and 3-0. But just when he looked to be in complete control of proceedings, two untimely forehand errors in a row (from 30-30 onwards) cost David his next service game. A typical blip for him, though he didn't drop his serve to love, this time. With David still up a break, at 5-3 Bedene served to stay in the match and quickly went down 0-40 before David converted his first match point with a blistering first-serve return that Bedene couldn't put back into play.

It was a nice match to watch, as the clip above shows, and not as close as the scoreline seems to suggest. And once he got past the initial bit of rust, David not only found the timing on his groundstrokes and on his returns but also displayed some great touch at the net. He has to be a bit cautious with his movement on clay and it could be seen again, last night. But apart from that, I thought he was moving well. What could still use some improvement is his serving. While he dropped only six points on his first serve in the match, his first-serve percentage went down to 43% in the second set (52% for the match).
Still - a good start for David and one he can hopefully continue to build on.

(Mirko Jovanovic/tournament website)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Belgrade R2 - David vs Aljaz Bedene

Update
It was his first match in almost a month and he was indeed a bit rusty, especially during the early stages... But in the end, David had no difficulties, defeating Aljaz Bedene 6-4, 6-3 in exactly 80 minutes.
David's next opponent in the quarterfinal will now be Joao Souza. But first of all he gets a day off tomorrow, ahead of quarterfinals day on Friday.

More tomorrow...


(Getty Images/teniskisvet.com; montage by VD)














Theoretically, this was supposed to be David's second match at Belgrade, after playing doubles with Edu Schwank, yesterday. That doubles match didn't come to pass - but not because of David. It was Edu Schwank, who decided to call it off, after some tough matches he had, qualifying for singles and then also beating Dudi Sela in the first round, yesterday.
So David's Belgrade premiere will be tonight's prime-time match against Aljaz Bedene, currently ranked #156. And perhaps needless to say, they've never met before.

For 22-year-old Aljaz Bedene from Slovenia (not to be confused with Slovakia), it's the third time in his career that he has managed to qualify for a an ATP-level event. Last year, he cracked the Top200 for the first time, after reaching the second round at Vienna (lost to Tommy Haas). This season, he qualified for the main draw at Barcelona but then lost in the first round to Federico Delbonis. At Belgrade, Bedene made it through qualies without dropping a set and then also defeated Martin Klizan in straights, in the first round, yesterday. At the Challenger level, Bedene has had some good results this year, having won two events on clay, most notably the Barletta Challenger, where he beat Potito Starace in the final.

With a current ranking of #156, Aljaz Bedene is the lowest-ranked opponent David has faced this season. But since Bedene has already played four matches at Belgrade, he'll be used to the conditions. David on the other hand will probably be a bit rusty, after not having played in almost a month. For Bedene, this is going to be one of the biggest matches (if not the biggest one) in his still young career. For David, it's going to be match number 546, another early-round encounter against a player he has never met or seen before...
Here's hoping it'll be a good one and a good start at Belgrade.