Nikolay Davydenko lost a brilliant battle to Rafael Nadal in their Rome semifinal while Roger Federer fired his coach two weeks before the French Open.
Nikolay Davydenko had the right game plan to beat Rafael Nadal in their Rome semifinal and he played the match of his life, but he was one skill short: attack mode. He came to the net when he was assured that Nadal was out of position but again and again he found himself inside the baseline and decided to backpedal instead of move forward and attack.
Davydenko got all those short balls because he pushed Nadal by taking the ball early and hitting wide to Nadal’s backhand. Once he got Nadal on the run, he kept him on the run. But he didn’t attack quite enough and that uncovered one more problem: size. Davydenko is a small guy and Nadal is a big, bruising hitter. If Davydenko had attacked just a bit more he might have been able to win the first set. But he lost it in a tiebreaker and by the third set, he’d run out of the strength he needed to push Nadal around the court while Nadal was still humming.
This was the match we’ve been waiting for since last year’s five hour, five set final between Nadal and Roger Federer. When Nadal had time to run around his forehand and set up shop, Davydenko found a way to get the ball back. When the rally went on forever, Davydenko hit away until Nadal made an error. When Nadal served for the first and second set, Davydenko broke him.
It was everything Davydenko had but it wasn’t enough and it must have been a bitter loss. As he walked off the court the crowd yelled and clapped for him. He threw his hands up halfway and out to the side and half grimaced/half smiled in response, a gesture expressing the appreciation and the pain.
I’m sure Roger Federer saw the match and it might have been bittersweet for him too because he has the skill that Davydenko doesn’t. Federer-Nadal is a fascinating twosome in that regard. The fiery but one-dimensional Nadal drives himself to excellence and the supremely skilled Federer stays calm enough for his tennis brilliance to emerge.
Desire trumps finesse on clay, though, and Federer’s attempt to change his game to win the French Open appears to have come to a sticking point. He hired Tony Roche to improve his net play and he fired him this weekend just two weeks before the French Open.
There are rumors that Lleyton Hewitt will hire Roche and Federer will hire Darren Cahill. I’m not sure why Roche would want to work with Hewitt and it’s not Federer’s style to be desperate for help. It’s just the opposite, he’s gone for long stretches without a coach. Still, it leaves Federer without direction at the moment and sets up a curious situation for someone with the best shot in his career at a calendar grand slam.
Perhaps last year was his best shot.