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Davydenko Eliminates Nadal From Contention

Posted by on Nov 25th, 2009 and filed under  Top Stories, Latest News, Tennis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

World No. 7 Nikolay Davydenko has ended Rafael Nadal’s chances of reaching the semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals after defeating the Spaniard 6-1, 7-6(4) on Wednesday evening in Group B action at The O2 in south-east London.

The No. 2-ranked Nadal has lost both his opening matches in straight sets, also falling to Robin Soderling on Monday, meaning that even if he defeats Novak Djokovic on Friday his set win-loss percentage would not be strong enough to earn him second place in the group. It is the first time in three appearances at the season climax that Nadal has failed to qualify for the semi-finals.

“To be out of the [Finals], well, that’s sport and everything can happen,” said Nadal. “I didn’t arrive to this tournament with the full confidence that you need to win these matches. And in the moments that I had to play well, I didn’t play well. I made mistakes. I fought a lot. Both matches I fought. I tried my best all the time, but it wasn’t enough to win these matches.”

The 28-year-old Davydenko, who finished runner-up to Djokovic at the 2008 year-end championship in Shanghai, notched his first round-robin win of the week, having fallen to Djokovic on Monday. He will now face Soderling, who has a 2-0 record, in his final Group B match on Friday.

The Russian was quick to not get carried away with his victory, remaining aware he is yet to qualify for the semi-finals. “It’s not like I won tournament. Just winning [one] match, now [I am] 1-1. Still [there is] maybe [a] chance, maybe not, to come to the semi-finals. But after first match, I showed my good tennis in the second match. I was surprising. We’ll see if I can show the same tennis in the third match.”

For the first set and a half of their eighth meeting, Davydenko enthralled the packed centre court with a stunning display of tennis that left Nadal reeling. As well as the Russian was playing, though, he was also largely aided by a succession of uncharacteristic unforced errors from Nadal, who was unable to impose himself on Davydenko in the baseline exchanges.

A rifling backhand winner from Davydenko in the third game set the tone and the Volgograd resident went on to break serve as Nadal broke down in a baseline rally by netting a backhand. Davydenko then won straight 10 points from 4-1, 30/30 to close out the first set, firing down two aces in the final game.

Nadal was under pressure immediately in the second set and was forced to save break points in both his first two service games. He could not keep Davydenko at bay any longer, though, and the right-hander earned his break through in the fifth game as Nadal miscued a forehand long to trail 2-3.

With Davydenko in charge by a set-and-a-break lead, the match quickly took on another dimension as nerves took over the Russian. He had hit 19 winners thus far in a clinical display, but they were suddenly replaced by errors giving a disheartened and frustrated Nadal new belief. The Spaniard was unable to convert on three break point opportunities in the following game, but glimpses of his best tennis were beginning to surface and he was able to take his chance in the eighth game, levelling as Davydenko over hit a backhand down the line.

Nadal was still unable to consistently maintain his level and as soon as it dropped again Davydenko was ready to pounce, breaking to lead 6-5 as Nadal netted a forehand before looking in despair at his support team. The Mallorcan was handed a brief reprieve as nerves once more attacked Davydenko and his conservative play, riddled with unforced errors, was punished by Nadal who hauled himself back into contention to force a tie-break.

With the match finely balanced at 4-3 to Davydenko in the tie-break, the Russian shed his nervous inhibitions and stepped up to attack Nadal, reaping the rewards with a mini-break advantage. He then successfully closed out the contest, and his second straight win over Nadal, on his first match point opportunity with a blazing forehand winner into the corner after one hour and 47 minutes.

Davydenko also defeated Nadal last month to earn his third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title at the Shanghai ATP Masters 1000, presented by Rolex. He is now level in their head-to-head series at 4-4.

After being restricted in the first half of the season due to a foot injury, the Russian has more than made up for his time away from the court by winning four ATP World Tour titles since July, earning his place at the season finale for the fifth straight year.

A disappointed Nadal will now turn his attentions to preparing himself for Spain’s Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic, to be played on clay in Barcelona next weekend; he has one match left against Djokovic on Friday. The Spaniard has struggled to regain his form and confidence since losing in the fourth round of Roland Garros (l. to Soderling) and being sidelined through Wimbledon with knee tendonitis. Since his comeback, the Australian Open champion has also been hindered by an abdominal strain, but still managed to reach the semi-finals at the US Open (l. to del Potro) and the final in Shanghai.

“Today I think mentally I was better,” reflected Nadal. “I played a terrible game at 5-5 in the second set. But the rest, I tried to do different things during the whole match, trying to play more aggressive with the forehand. That’s important thing that I improved a little bit today. So just trying every day. Every day trying a little bit more.”

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