Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Look Back at... Paris 2007

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It's October 2007, David has just won his first Masters title, becoming only the third player ever to beat the world's #1, #2 & #3 in the course of the same tournament. And after the "milagro", the 'miracle' of Madrid and David's comeback win over Roger Federer in the final it's now straight on to Basel.
After all the excitement of the previous week, however, David looks tired and depleted. He loses in the first round, once more against Stanislas Wawrinka. So now there's only one tournament left for him to play this season - the Paris Masters.

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Exactly one week after the Madrid final David plays his first match in Paris. The organisers have chosen it to be the opening match of the week at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. Therefore David's first-round encounter with Nicolas Almagro (#28) takes place already on Sunday and without coverage (which doesn't start until Monday). So what it looks like, this first official meeting between David and Almagro remains a mystery. Though judging by the mere numbers it's a pretty straightforward victory for David, who prevails 6-4, 6-4.

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In the second round, 3 days later, David finds himself on Court 1, i.e. the outside court, and up against another Spaniard. This time it's David's buddy and PlayStation teammate Carlos Moya (#16), who won their first meeting on hardcourt two months earlier at Cincy (until then they had always played on clay). But now, under the eyes of Rafael Nadal who follows the match tucked away in a corner, one break per set and holding on to his own serve proves to be enough for David. During the changeover at 6-4, 5-4 there's even an attempt at a Mexican wave on the not exactly huge stands. Then David closes it out, without any wobbles.
But it's only the prelude.

Because in the third round the blockbuster match awaits.

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A mere 11 days after the Madrid final they meet again - David and Roger Federer. And as always these two bring out the best in each other, with plenty of spectacular points and some great attacking tennis from David. But the dramaturgy of the match is a completely different one, compared to Madrid. This time, David is the one who's off to a brilliant start. But when it comes to closing it out, the first set as well as the match, David's 'old demons' return. In the words of Roger Federer, "I absolutely thought he was getting nervous. He has a tendency to, you know, sometimes give a second chance when you think you're down and out."
Still, despite altogether five wasted set points and despite getting broken when serving for the first set and then also when serving for the match, in the end David doesn't give Federer another chance but wins the their second encounter within three weeks 6-4, 7-6(3).
"He's got a phenomenal backhand and can dictate play from both sides," Federer also says afterwards.

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In the quarterfinal (highlights here) it's an altogether different challenge that awaits David in the shape of 'the other' David Ferrer (#6) and his defensive skills. As is usually the case with these two the match turns into a battle with lots of protracted rallies, plenty of running and also plenty of break points on both sides. The first set goes to a tiebreak after David served for it and got broken. He takes it in the tiebreak but the match is still close and far from over - especially when a couple of errors and a brief episode of drop-shotitis in the second-set tiebreak cost him the set.
In the third set, however, David turns out to be the one who has more left in the tank. He quickly leads 2-0, one last time Ferrer gets back to 2-2 - but then he doesn't get another game after that as David eventually wins 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 6-2.
In his words: "It's always tough to beat a friend and Ferrer is the best friend I have on the Tour. It was a long and tough match and we were both tired at the end. It was a very intense match."
But he also looks ahead at a very special feat he might be able to achieve: "Here in Paris I already beat Moya and Ferrer and if I get to the final I'll face Nadal and that would mean I played against everyone from our PlayStation round."

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But first of all there's the semifinal (highlights here) that needs to be played, against local favourite Richard Gasquet (#13). During the minutes before of the match we get to see an incredibly relaxed David (clip), congratulating a somewhat baffled Gasquet on qualifying for the Masters Cup in Shanghai. Inside the Palais Omnisports a partisan crowd is assembled for this match. What they don't know is that David likes it that way. But the question still is whether he has been able to recover from the Battle of the Davids...
The answer is - yes. And not only that, it's a demonstration. To the stunned disbelief of the crowd and the growing chagrin of Richard Gasquet. David breaks in the very first game and basically from that moment on he's in control of the match. And he's calmness personified. The first set David takes 6-2. In the second he's up 5-2, serving for the match and probably thinking he's already through when Gasquet's final stand (spurred on by the crowd) costs him his serve. But he gets it done at the second time of asking. David wins 6-2, 6-4 and makes his second Masters final in row. But this semifinal as well is a match to remember - especially for Richard Gasquet (clip).

And yet, as great a match as the semifinal has been, nobody really sees this one coming...

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Unlike their previous encounter at Madrid, where David was utterly dominant from the start, initially it's a very even match. Both hold serve without any major difficulties - until 4-4. Then David gets the first break. And Nadal doesn't get another game. If the match against Gasquet was a demonstration this one is a clinic.
Or as David describes it after the match: "After I broke him, I felt that I was playing better than him. I play more relaxed, start hitting winners almost from everywhere. That gave me confidence."
And so an amazing week in Paris comes to an incredible end.
"All week I was playing great, and I don't know why the result was so easy," as David puts it.

He most certainly did play great tennis. But it's not like during this week (or at Madrid) he somehow managed to transform himself into a different player, one with all the strengths but none of the weaknesses. No, it was still good old David, still squandering leads and struggling with closing out sets and matches. But during those two weeks he not only managed play great tennis but also to overcome those difficulties. And that's what made and still makes them so amazing.

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(Quotes: ESPN, La Nacion, BBC.)