Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Look Back at... Madrid 2007

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October 2007, the tail end of what has been a dire season for David. One that has had a bit of everything: injury problems, several first-round losses, early exits at the Slams, not a single win in Davis Cup, and two defeats at his home event in Buenos Aires - where the ATP has been testing the round-robin mode. It's been half a year since the only quarterfinal he reached this season (at Barcelona). And David's ranking has suffered, dropping from #8 at the beginning of the season to #25, the lowest in four years.
What little hope remains for 2007 now rests on the indoor swing. Ahead of it, David took a break from the Tour. He drove a rally back home in Argentina but he also started training with his new coach Martin Jaite.
As his first indoor event this year he chose Vienna and went out against Wawrinka in the second round.
Not the most promising of starts.
But now it's time for Madrid...

For David the tournament starts on the Pista Alcala, the smaller court that's about as atmospheric as a school gym. Against his first-round opponent Arnaud Clement (#40) he never had any problems in the past. And when he immediately flies to a 5-1 lead everything seems to point to another easy win. What happens instead is - drama. David loses the next six games in a row and with them the first set. But after that he manages to recover very quickly and wins the second rather easily.
In the third set he gets the break for 4-3 and in the end it's enough to win the match 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, despite the first-set meltdown.

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In the second round, again on the Pista Alcala, David once more catches bright start against Tomas Berdych (#11). After securing a break in the very first game he looks to be in control of proceedings - until 4-2. This time, David loses the next eight games in a row, from 4-2 all the way to 4-6, 0-4. It's not like he has completely imploded but he keeps taking risks with his groundstrokes and he's simply making way too many unforced errors. While Berdych, now comfortably leading by a set and a double break, seems slightly baffled at how he got there.
- But it's not over yet. Because David doesn't give up. He claws his way back into this match, cursing and shouting but also finding his range now. And then he turns this set around, game by game until he has won six of them in a row and the match goes into a decider.
The third set is an open battle but without any breaks. So a tiebreak must decide. David gets a code violation right away (for firing a ball away in frustration and almost hitting Berdych with it) but then he goes on to play a flawless tiebreak. Eventually, David prevails 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(2). His game is still very patchy but during those moments when it works it's now starting to be brilliant.

So now it's time to move over to the big stage...
Where they play this song when the players are walking onto the court.

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David's first match on the Pista Central takes place in the third round and it's the first ever edition of this particular Argentine battle of the generations - at a time when David against Delpo really means just that. And it starts with a little mishap: Delpo, still the long-haired newcomer (#53), has only had 15 hours to recover from his last match and tired as well as maybe a bit daunted he has forgotten to bring his racquets. But once it does actually start this turns out to be David's first match of the week without a major drama moment (or rather - phase).
From the start, David is in charge of most of the rallies, solid on serve and constantly putting Delpo under pressure on return. And with more of his groundstrokes finding their target. The first set goes by rather quickly.
The second set is more competitive, David drops his serve after breaking but then makes up for it by simply breaking again in the following game.
In the end, it's fairly unproblematic 6-2, 6-4 victory for David, who, as the commentators and journalists are now beginning to notice, is actually looking really rather good and fit out there.

But now these three are waiting...
(Fue Buena)

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First up in the quarterfinal is another premiere - David against Rafa Nadal. They know each other, they share the same doctor and management, and they've trained together before. But this is the first time they play an official match against each other. And even though Nadal has had a pretty tough match against Andy Murray the night before he's still the overwhelming favourite to win this encounter.
But then the match starts and it's unlike anything anybody was expecting. Nadal's lefty serve, his forehand, his topspin - none of that seems to be any problem for David. He's the one who dominates, who dictates play, sending Nadal all over the court. Mostly with his backhand, which is working to perfection. It's a demonstration, a clinic almost. It's also the match where he posts the worst numbers on serve all week but it really doesn't matter - everything else is working like a charm.
In the first set, Nadal doesn't manage to get another game after 1-1. In the second David is slightly more forgiving. But also Nadal's final stand at 5-2 in the second set only ends with another break and eventually defeat. Final score: 6-1, 6-2 for David. "A perfect match" Jaite calls it afterwards. And David is content too: "I've proved once again that I'm playing well and that the work I've put in is paying off."

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In the semifinal it's David against Novak Djokovic, the second edition, two months after their first meeting at the Rogers Cup in Montréal. Back then, David was virtually chanceless and not more than a brief stopover for Djokovic on his way to the title.
But this time it's David, who, armed with an early break, soon holds the upper hand. Against Djokovic it's not as easy as it was against Nadal but David serves better than in the previous round and his groundstrokes are clicking again, deep and accurate. Most of the rallies they play on his terms. 
In the first set his break from early on turns out to be enough. In the second they stay on serve. Djokovic has a set point at 6-5 but David fends it off in style, with a backhand down the line that draws the error. And in the tiebreak that follows he's in charge, even if in the end he needs three match points to finish it.
His 6-4, 7-6(4) victory grants David a place in the final of Madrid. It's the second time he reaches this stage at this event after 2004. Back then he went down in straights against Marat Safin, who won the Madrid and Paris double that year.
But his opponent in this final is a very old friend...

There were moments during this match when it seemed like Roger Federer might have the right answer for just about anything David could try. Moments that came during the first set, even if it wasn't quite as one-sided as the scoreline suggests. But even then it wasn't over. Because David didn't give up.
Instead, in the course of this match he managed to bring it all together, everything that made this week at Madrid so special. The amazing groundstrokes and the tactical finesse as well as the sheer grit and the will to fight on, even in seemingly hopeless situations.
It was an unforgettable week, one during which David showed what was possible, at the right time and in the right place - also out of practically nowhere.
And who would've known back then that there was more to come...

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