Saturday, November 16, 2013

'David Nalbandian Did Everything Right'

After David announced his retirement six weeks ago many articles, posts and commentaries were written about him and about his career. Most of them listed his best moments, some also included his worst. But there was one that took a different approach. And I think it makes a very true and important point.
Here's the article by Marcelo Gantman for La Nacion.
David Nalbandian did everything right in his career.
He did everything he could do, being David Nalbandian and not a compound of parts of other players and consequently of other personalities. Nalbandian was who he was, the sum of both the perfection and the imperfection squeezed into the same package. Just like any other top athlete.

Nalbandian's retirement was followed by journalistic outpourings and mentions on the social networks, about the player he was and the player people wanted him to be. Swiftly and spontaneously (and therefore you have to pay attention to that collective expression of thoughts) the idea came up that in a way, David Nalbandian was unfinished business. A version that was good and praised but that could've been better, the perfect example of a tennis player, able to use every corner of the opponent's court and to transform his mind into a radar so that nothing could escape him. But obviously not everybody was satisfied with that.

There's a huge problem with accepting sports stars as they are, or as they were, instead of comparing the original to an ideal. Since the imaginary version cannot be likened to facts it's always going to look better. But it is not better. It has never been because it never existed.
David Nalbandian managed to win the Masters Cup in Shanghai in 2005 after he had already packed his bags to go fishing with some friends. "I'm only going to take the trip if you guarantee that I get to play," he told the ATP. They did guarantee a place for him in the draw and Nalbandian responded by triumphing over Roger Federer in the final. Only a player accustomed to switching back and forth within days between relaxing and then focusing on tennis again could make something positive out of this unexpected situation. It's difficult to imagine Rafael Nadal pursuing some sudden objective like that and without making it part of a meticulously planned and followed program. And when Roger Federer amended his schedule for 2013, in a desperate move after his early Wimbledon exit, he only managed to deepen the crisis with appearances in Gstaad and Hamburg that were not planned well in advance. Improvising doesn't work for everybody.

There's always something lacking with everyone. It's the margin between evident perfection and imperfection that flirts with the abyss. What changes is the space you occupy on this slippery slope. Champions shrink the margin of error until we believe that there is none. Why did Pete Sampras never manage to win Roland Garros? How much more could've John McEnroe achieved, had he not spent so much energy on arguing with umpires and if he had eaten more pasta and less hamburgers? And what if Ivan Lendl hadn't been so obsessed with Wimbledon and would've chosen a more relaxed way of trying to win it? It's impossible to know these things. Because had it been that way, they would not have been who they were.

"Everybody has their best way of doing things and it works only for them. Nole has his way, Rafa has his and Federer has his one as well. I have been criticised for mine because I don't belong to those who think that you can be a better player if you rest somewhere in chair instead of going bungee jumping or doing something else I enjoy doing," Nalbandian commented in an interview for the book 'Héroes Igual", two years ago.

Nalbandian's career began in 1998 and ended in 2013. Already prior to that, having been an outstanding junior, he put in plenty of travelling, had done so since he was fourteen years old. As a professional player there were both voluntary and involuntary exits that he took from the circuit. The deliberate ones happened because his way of competing included the need to return to Unquillo, to light the coals for a barbecue and talk about how things were going. The involuntary ones had to do with his injuries and surgeries. This way of doing things and of competing, though certainly imperfect, was what allowed him to be consistent in his approach to professional tennis. Nalbandian didn't burn out along the way. He didn't bust his head, sitting trapped in business class, overwhelmed by his experiences. Tennis players go through those kinds of moments.

Nalbandian played, won and lost, always knowing where the emergency exit was that he could take in order to regroup and return with motivation. That was his way of doing things and it was the reason he survived until his shoulder no longer allowed him a dignified serve. A paradox, an unlikely Achilles' heel for a player with the best return of serve we've seen here in these parts.
(All photos by Getty Images.)

David's farewell party in Buenos Aires will not only consist of a singles match with Rafael Nadal, afterwards they will also play a doubles together against Novak Djokovic and Pico (source).

P.S. Post about next week's exhibitions, start times etc. coming on Monday.
Here's a photo of the court at La Rural, installed yesterday:

(Pablo Comba)


  1. Finally, a reporter who hasn't gotten into his feelings!! Some of them did (looking dead at you, Matt Cronin) to childish and petty effect, I must say.

  2. Finally a journalist who addresses what has been the cause of much debate here on this blog.

  3. Wow! What an article. This is the David Nalbandian I often suspected I'd see if I ever had the opportunity to get to know the guy. Thanks for the translation, Julia.

  4. I just think it's a good idea to illustrate what David could do because of the player and person he actually was/is. As opposed to going on about what he could've would've should''ve achieved had he only been more focused, consistent, dedicated etc - i.e. a different person.
    Yep, I really like this article and I simply had to translate it. :)

  5. Yes, very interesting and rather different. Thanks for posting it, Julia.