Good morning everyone. Welcome to the Paris Masters final on this beautiful Sunday morning (or afternoon as it may be). This tournament usually features the second tier of players but now that the ATP is “encouraging” the top players to turn up by promising $1.5 million dollars if they win the most Masters Series points AND play both Madrid and Paris, we have a fantastic title game: David Nalbandian and Rafael Nadal.

Nalbandian has improbably risen from the ashes by winning in Madrid – and beating Rafa along the way and Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – after reaching only one quarterfinal this year.

What are the issues here? Can Nadal and his knees hold up for an entire tournament? Can Nalbandian hit the ball hard and fast enough to take time away from Nadal and WHO is that woman in the spacy silver outfit who looks like she was imported from Las Vegas?

Nina: First off, a quick poll. Who’ll win this match: Nalbandian or Rafa? I’ll fall behind my co-writer Pat Davis (who is here today) in the ATP fantasy tennis game if Nalbandian wins so, of course, I’m all in for Rafa.

Pat: Good morning everyone, are we living yet? God, the things I do for Nalbandian! I did not see that girl in the silver outfit, Nina, but she probably WAS imported from Vegas. The French would love to think they can compete on the Las Vegas front, no?

Nina: Didn’t Paris start it all with the Folies Bergere? Whoa, I knew Andy Roddick was thinking of opting out of Shanghai but it never occurred to me that Nalbandian could end up in Shanghai if Roddick did opt out. Bad news for Federer and his number one ranking.

Nadal 2-1

Nina: Routine holds of serve so far. Rafa seems to be dialed in on his forehand and Nalbadian is serving well. Two things that both players had trouble with in their matches yesterday.

Nadal 3-2

Curious to me that Nalbandian appears to be attacking Rafa’s backhand. Most players attack his forehand because it takes him so long to wind up that extreme topspin forehand stroke.

Nadal 4-3

Pat: Apparently Nalbandian is the first alternate??? So if Roddick decides to pull out of Shanghai, David is in, I presume. That would be something, because if anyone deserves to be in that field, it’s him. Nalbandian earlier had an easy ball at the net and I thought for sure he would go inside out up the line with his forehand, but instead he knocked it to Nadal’s backhand and he was there and ended up winning the point. He is serving well, I like his chances so far.

Nina: Nalbandian is the first alternate if he wins today. How can someone deserve to be in Shanghai if they had only one quarterfinal going into the last three weeks of the year? To me that is not a good thing.

Pat: Nalbandian has beaten much of the field already for Shanghai, he is hot right now and playing good tennis so I’d like to see more of him. I think he could emerge there as the best player of them all, and that would be utterly fantastic. Frankly Roddick may have earned a place based on earlier play in the year, but lately he has come a cropper and I don’t expect him to have much of a good time in Shanghai. But Nalbandian will have to win today apparently.

Nalbandian 5-4 (broke Nadal’s serve)

Nina: Oooh, Rafa was luck Nalby put the ball into the net at 30-30. Nalby is able to get Rafa on the run pretty regularly now and that’ll be the main determinant in this match. Rafa was losing badly to Baghdatis yesterday until he started playing more aggressively but it’s not clear that Nalby will let him play more aggressively. Especially if Rafa hits second serves. And that’s precisely what happened, Nalby winner off a second serve and he gets the first break in the match.

Nina: Wow, Nalbandian got a second serve gift and he certainly made the most of that return! Lovely backhand up the line, he and Murray did lots of that this week off the service return. Now, can David close the deal?

Nalbandian 6-4

Nina: He did indeed close the deal and that sharp angled slice volley duel at the net was fantastic. Nalby is doing exactly what he should be doing: attacking second serves and hitting hard flat shots to the corners. I cannot believe that this guy – who is terrible in important matches and is known to have problems closing out sets – doesn’t seem to be having problems with either of those issues. Whats the explanation for that? Can’t just be a new coach, can it?

Nina: Roddick only played in one fall tournament. His game is well-tailored to playing on indoor hard courts and it seems that he is “saving” himself for Davis Cup. Have you ever heard of anyone skipping the year end championship to play Davis Cup by the way?

Nablandian 1-0 (broke Nadal’s serve)

Nina: Whoa, I looked away for a moment and it was 0-30 on Nadal’s serve. I thought Rafa might have been alright with the slower court but apparently not. Of course, Nalby is playing perfectly. How many unforced errors does he have? Can’t be many.

Nina: By the way, readers, feel free to leave comments and we’ll put you right into the discussion.

Nalbandian 3-0 (broke Nadal’s serve)

Pat: So Nadal was up 40-0 serving, and Nalbandian fought his way back to break! That’s the knife in the heart, that one, 3-0 now. Nalbandian is just feasting on those second serve returns. I notice he is playing nearly on the baseline, Nadal is getting backed behind it.

Pat: I read that Roddick was “saving” himself for Davis Cup, I guess Pat McEnroe should be thrilled, no? If that is what he really wants, then I say he should stub his toe in Shanghai and let Nalbandian into the field. Let him have Davis Cup and Nalbandian can go to Shanghai. Fair enough?

Nalbandian 4-0

Nina: Two breaks in a row for Nalbandian. He’s just dominating. He’s doing what everyone else does to Nadal indoors but he’s just doing that much better. I did say at the beginning of the day that I wasn’t sure Rafa can last through to the end of hard court tournaments. His body seems to break down. Particularly as Rafa has an excellent record in finals historically but is now having trouble in the later stages of hard court tournaments.

Nalbandian 5-0 (broke Nadal)

Nina: Okay, now this is ridiculous. Nalby is looking like Rafa. He retrieved an impossible shot and hit a winner off it.

Pat: Hhmmm, do you smell bagels baking somewhere? I smell bagels in the works. Utterly awesome play from Nalbandian. Roger is watching somewhere and thinking, “I don’t feel so bad now.” The serving (or lack thereof in Nadal’s case) has been the story of the match. And some absolutely wild and crazy angled shots.

Nalbandian wins the match, 6-4, 6-0

Nina: A bagel in the second set. Are you kidding me? I have to go back to my point, Rafa cannot seem to play out in hard court events. What say you Pat? Nalbandian played exceptionally well but Rafa couldn’t get his first serve in and he couldn’t get his forehand deep. Nalby, my god, here’s a guy who’d never had a Masters Series win (except for his Masters Cup win over Federer in 2005) and only had five career titles and now he has two Masters Titles in three weeks? This is absolutely awful of me to say and you can all pile on me but I have to say that I didn’t think to myself – performance enhancing drugs. Awful I know but I’ll forget about that for now and enjoy this fantastic dance performance by these very cool women and men. Why don’t they do that for every title ceremony?

Pat: Nina, we kid you not! I looked at Nadal carefully to see if he showed any signs of knee/leg problems but he seems to be moving ok. Nalbandian just rose mightily to the occasion today. It is somewhat puzzling to me that Nadal does not play better on the hard stuff, although I still find these courts not really very “hard” in the sense of that word. He plays so well on grass that I guess I expect that to translate to other fast surfaces but it doesn’t.

Pat: Do you think this loss was as thorough as Nadal’s to Nalbandian last month?

Nina: Well, if you look at Nadal’s record on hard court this year, he had trouble in Montreal and Cincinnati and left after the fourth round at the U.S. Open clearly having trouble getting around. Quarterfinals at Madrid – I don’t know if that was a worse match than this, the second set today was a dominating turn by Nalby. I’m not sure how well Rafa will be able to do on hard court the rest of his career.

Pat: Performance-enhancing drugs?? Nina, shame on you! (lol) I think we can probably safely say, without fear of contradiction, that Nalby is probably being tested RIGHT NOW as he walks off the court. Still the question would come up, given his amazing run.

Pat: So I take it you really like his chances already at the Australian Open in January? I do too. And somehow I think David will find a way into that draw in Shanghai. I am praying to my tennis gods!

Pat: Nadal’s stats were something like only 18% of points won on second serves? Positively anemic by anyone’s standards and certainly by his. And only 5 winners I think. I’ll go back and compare today’s stats with three weeks ago but this may be the worst of the two drubbings Nalbandian served up.

Nina: The announcers suggested that Nikolay Davydenko might drop out with his elbow problems but I have a hard time seeing Davydenko drop out of anything. I also cannot see the ATP letting Roddick “drop out” of Shanghai. Anyway, whatever happens, it’s been a fascinating tennis season so far and now we have what everyone has been clamoring for since Federer took over the game: a tossup in Shanghai and a real possibility that the Australian Open will be competitive for a change.

Thanks Pat, see you at the Shanghai final (what ungodly hour will that be?).

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