2006 Masters Cup: three sets = 24 minutes of activity

I feel like I should stick my tongue out and plug it into a digital socket so I can generate computer commands with brainwaves because I can’t take much more of this.

On Thursday I asked readers the following question. How long do you think a match would take if we distilled it down to one thing: points during which the ball is in play? To that end, I watched yesterday’s match between Nikolay Davydenko and Rafael Nadal and timed every point. I skipped commercials, game breaks, first serves, double faults, medical timeouts and challenges.

I was too lazy to record the match onto my laptop and use Movie Maker to edit out all of the extraneous stuff so I used a stopwatch to time the activity. In between pushing start/stop, adding the length of the point to an Excel file, using Dragon Naturally Speaking to voice record notes about the match, and hitting Reset, my eyes were spinning like pinwheels. I can truly say that technology has not made my life one bit easier. I feel like I should stick my tongue out and plug it into a digital socket so I can generate computer commands with brainwaves because I can’t take much more of this.

As you can see by the title of this piece, Nadal and Davydenko played a three set match. The match time was two hours and forty-five minutes. How long is the compressed version? Twenty-four minutes. Yes, that’s right. If I could find someone to write a software program to compress a tennis match I could have reduced my viewing time by 85%. It couldn’t be all that hard. If you hear bouncing, the ball is in play. If you don’t, it’s not. That’s a whole lot easier than trying to write a program to compress a baseball game. How do you know when the ball is in play in baseball?

If you have such software skills, contact me. I’ll invest in your product.

We should now actually look at the match because it determined who went on to the semifinals. Davydenko started out the same way he did against James Blake – on fire. He was moving Nadal all over the court. Again and again he wrong-footed Nadal and ran him silly. At 1-2 in the first set, Davydenko got his first break point. Nadal saved the first but Davydenko got another break point by running down a drop volley and hitting a beautiful passing shot. Both these little buggers are fast. Nadal managed to hold serve but I was waiting to see if Davydenko would run out of gas again. After his loss to Blake he said, “I’m not ready for Shanghai for physically,” because he has had a slight case of bronchitis. Either that or he finds it impossible to admit that he played too many tournaments this year.

With Nadal serving to stay in the set, Davydenko got a break point by stepping in and hitting balls early. And here, I suppose, is one reason Davydenko has played in more tournaments than any other top ten player. He’s not a counter puncher but he’s also not likely to overpower anyone so he has to take the ball early to hit with the power players. If he can’t outfit them, at least he can rush them into making errors. Unless you’re Andre Agassi and you’ve been taking the ball early since you were nine years old, it takes great timing and rhythm to do it consistently and Davydenko keeps his timing and rhythm by playing nonstop.

Nadal responded to set point for Davydenko by hitting a double fault. Nadal is number two in the world because he plays the big points well. Since Wimbledon, though, he’s not played well at all. After his loss to Blake, Nadal said, “The problem is not my game because I was playing very good with my forehand… But in the important moments I lost my confidence.”

I think we might have been expecting Nadal’s meteoric rise to continue. He beat Federer on hard court in Dubai and he got to the final at Wimbledon. Surely mastery of fast surfaces would certainly follow. But life isn’t like that. There are plateaus and valleys and peaks. And Nadal has been on a plateau for the past few months.

Davydenko blinked in the first game in the second set. He made some errors and gave Nadal a break of serve. No doubt that helped Nadal’s confidence. Nadal held onto the break to win the second set and even the match.

They were still on serve at 3-3 in the third set but Davydenko’s errors were mounting. In the next game, Davydenko moved Nadal from one corner to the other – Nadal could barely recover in between strokes. But Davydenko couldn’t finish the point off, he put an easy ball into the net. We were waiting for him to start flagging and here it was. Davydenko saved two break points but eventually lost the game. He isn’t exhausted and against most any other player not named Federer, he might have been alright, but Nadal is just too quick and strong.

Nadal won the match 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

Now we get Nadal-Federer IX in the semifinals. Why are the number one and two ranked players meeting in the semis and not the finals? Nadal came in second to Blake in his round-robin group, that’s why. I don’t give Nadal much chance against Federer, he could barely beat Davydenko today.

See also:
2006 Masters Cup” Calling Dr. Freud
2006 Masters Cup: Blake Gets Hot
Yanks On Fire In Shanghai