Dynamic Davydenko in Doha

Qatar Open 2010
By Matthew Zemek, January 10th, 2010

Imagine the two best days of tennis you could possibly have on the ATP Tour. Imagine a 48-hour fantasy ripped straight from the headlines. Imagine finding a zone of confidence you’ve never felt before.

Now you’re ready to enter the current existence of one Nikolay Davydenko.

In two days in Doha, Qatar, Nikolay Davydenko – fresh off his late-November run to the championship of the ATP World Tour Finals in London – started the 2010 season with a bang. The Russian – ranked sixth in the world – defeated Roger Federer in Friday’s semifinals by a 6-4, 6-4 score, and then – on Saturday – followed that tremendous result by outlasting Rafael Nadal, 0-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, to win the Qatar Open and achieve a very impressive distinction.

Davydenko’s win two months ago in London was built on the strength of wins over Federer (in a thrilling three-set semifinal) and Nadal (in the round-robin portion of the event). By slaying the two giants of men’s tennis in yet another tournament, Davydenko joined David Nalbandian as the only other man to beat Federer and Nadal in the same tournament on two separate occasions. Nalbandian turned the trick at the Madrid Masters and the Paris Masters in 2007.

Each of Davydenko’s crowning conquests offered something amazing for a tennis connoisseur. In the Friday win over Federer, Davydenko converted each of his first 27 first serves, an absolutely astounding statistic. Davydenko’s serve has never been thought of as a weapon, but its consistency has soared in the Russian’s recent runs to tournament championships. The least-publicized top 10 player in men’s tennis is producing such elevated stuff that it’s becoming hard to ignore him any longer. A man nicknamed “Kolya the Obscure” on tennis blogs is decisively and definitively stepping out of the shadows. If his win over Federer was felt to be something of a fluke, Kolya proved otherwise in a gritty display the following day against Nadal in the Qatar Open’s championship match.

As the scoreline shows, Davydenko got blitzed and bewildered by an on-song Nadal in the first set. The Spaniard served up a Saturday bagel to Davydenko, giving the impression that the Russian had used up his best tennis during his foiling of Federer on Friday.

But if anyone had begun to count him out, Davydenko responded with more of the quality that marked a memorable week in Qatar. Davydenko carried the play in the second set, and although his nerves failed him at times, the No. 6 player in the world was able to save two match points and take a fiercely-contested tiebreak. The third set was competitive as well, but in the end, it was the machine-like consistency and agile footwork of the Russian which won the battle. By robbing  Rafael Nadal of time and preventing the No. 2 player in the world from maintaining his first-set comfort zone, Davydenko worked his way to the winner’s circle once again.

Could the 2010 Australian Open be Nikolay Davydenko’s coming-out party on the Grand Slam stage? If he plays the way he did in Qatar – and for that matter, in London as well – it will be very hard to deny this unheralded but gifted player his precious place in the bright sunshine of championship glory.

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