World Tour Finals champion Davydenko joins elite
Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:51
Nikolay Davydenko didn’t sign one off-court autograph this week. He had dinner each night with his wife and team at the players’ hotel, and practiced for a couple of hours each day with his unstenciled, unsponsored Prince rackets.
In a world of endorsements and glamour, the Russian is the embodiment of the low key sportsman, the antithesis of the Federers, Nadals and Williamses of the tennis world.
But now, having beaten both this year’s Wimbledon and Roland Garros champion Federer and Australian Open victor Nadal, Davydenko completed a grand slam of his own with a 6-3 6-4 win against US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro to claim the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals crown.
The victory, hot on the heels of his Masters 1000 title in Shanghai last month, marks the new peak for the Russian’s career. Davydenko has played his career in the shadows of countrymen Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov – both former world No.1s and Grand Slam champions, but never winners of the season-ending championships.
Now, however, Davydenko is assured his place alongside the elite of the men’s game. “So many names there,” he said, looking at the huge silver trophy engraved with the winners of the 40-year-old competition. “Federer, Sampras. In 2009, stay name ‘Davydenko’, forever for this trophy.
“I know history of the Masters Cup,” he added, referring to the competition by its old name. “For my name [to] be there, something amazing for me.”
The inscription is rich reward for the 28-year-old, who has finished in the top ten each season since 2005 and was runner-up to Novak Djokovic at the last Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai last year.
Davydenko spent the entire week at the O2 arena taking the game to his opponents, and taking their time away from them, camping out on the baseline and resisting the urge to drift any deeper for most of the week.
The shortest man present in London, Davydenko thrived on the pace of the painted wood courts. “You can play different tennis,” he explained. “Not only big serve – you can get good return, running, good control baseline, play volley.
“How fast you are running also is important, and, for sure, concentration. It’s everything together – doesn’t matter how you tall or how you big or how you strong.”
His match with the 6’6” del Potro was a case in point. The Argentine’s booming serve and forehand were feared and revered long before he beat Federer in the US Open final back in September, and his game has far greater depth than those two weapons alone.
But Davydenko squared up to the challenge, just as he had all week. Playing inside the court denied del Potro time to wind up his ground strokes, and gave him the opportunity to sneak to the net with the Argentine on the stretch.
Immediately the approach had his 21-year-old opponent unsettled, and although del Potro saved one break point in game four, a foot fault threw him off-rhythm and a mishit forehand gifted the Russian a break.
The Argentine slowly found his feet in the match but Davydenko refused him any chance to work his way back into the set, closing it out with a love service game.
Del Potro had ambled around the court with his hangdog expression throughout the week, so there was little to be drawn from his exhausted look between points. And, true to form, he began to light up, unleashing that crunching forehand at times in the second set.
But with del Potro improving, Davydenko raised his game. With the set in the balance in game nine, the Russian manoeuvred the world No.5 around the court and punished the openings left to break to love, and served out confidence.
“I was surprised to win 6-3 6-4 in one hour and 20 minutes,” admitted Davydenko. “Before I’d played three-set matches, mostly two hours.
“I came in from the first point with 100% concentration,” he added. “Before the match I was so tired, I was scared about how I would start the match, how I could play against del Potro.
“And really from the beginning, I won my first serve, felt positive and was fighting every game, every point, and thought maybe I can win.”