Time for Davydenko to Get Rolling

May 2, 2006

Time for Davydenko to Get Rolling

2005 French Open Semi-Finalist Off to Shaky Clay-Court Start

By David McPherson

After an impressive run of form during last year’s clay-court season, Russian world No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko has been struggling to get things going in the 2006 campaign, losing in the first round of his first three clay-court events of the season.

All three of those losses, incidentally, have been against players with significantly better fast-court resumes than clay-court ones: the Czech Republic’s Jan Hernych, who hits the closest thing to a flat ball in men’s tennis, in Valencia; Sweden’s Robin Soderling in Monte Carlo; and the giant serving but slow moving 6′ 10″ Ivo Karlovic, who actually broke Davydenko’s serve twice in beating him in three sets in Barcelona.

Although his confidence had to have been a bit down heading into this week’s event in Estoril, Portugal, Davydenko got his first clay-court win of the season Monday against American Vince Spadea 7-6, 6-3 and – with no Rafael Nadal in the field – has as strong chance as anyone to to take the title.

The Russian’s heavy, powerful strokes off both sides, his blazing quickness and first-rate conditioning make him ideally suited to the clay. Much in the mold of a Juan Carlos Ferrero, Davydenko can control play from the back of the court against almost anyone, but can also use his excellent speed to track down balls and stay in the rallies when his opponent takes the initiative.

His Achilles Heel, though, is the unforced errors. Once they start to mount on the Russian, he tends to keep blasting and missing and knocks himself right out of the match.

In Estoril this week, there will be plenty of players ready to take advantage if he starts to spray the ball, starting with his likely next opponent, Marat Safin, in the round of 16.

Although also struggling to find his form this year, Safin has already notched two victories against Davydenko this year on hard courts. The third will be the toughest, though, because Nikolay’s edge in the mobility department should be the difference on clay if he can consistently get his countryman into long rallies.

If Davydenko is able to get to the quarterfinals, upstart Spaniard Nicolas Almagro – who recorded wins over double-fault-plagued Guillermo Coria and Ferrero in Barcelona before falling to Nadal in the semis – could be standing in his way.

Beyond that, the up-and-down Carlos Moya – responsible for one of Nadal’s three losses this season – is a possible semifinal opponent.

Provided Davydenko can get all the way to the finals, either Nicolas Massu – fresh off a finals appearance in Casablanca – or No. 1 seed David Nalbandian seem good bets to be his opponent there.

Considering his struggles thus far, I certainly hope Davydenko isn’t looking as far ahead in the draw as I am!

But, given his performance at last year’s French Open, where he “double bageled” Tommy Haas in the last two sets of their third round match before taking out an in-form Coria and Tommy Robredo and coming within a few games of the final in his loss to Mariano Puerta, I think it’s fair to expect Davydenko to start producing some quality tennis on his favorite surface.

Check back later in the week, as I hope to be able to provide some detailed match reports of some of the Estoril action.