David Nalbandian almost ran his record to 3-0 over Rafael Nadal last night in Indian Wells. What’s Nalbandian got that other players don’t?

Unfortunately, I’ve had to drive back to Los Angeles from the BNP Paribas Open so I can fly to my family’s home in Virginia and attend a funeral. Pat Davis is going to fill in for me on Saturday. But before I go I just want to put up a short post about redirection theory.

David Nalbandian came within five match points of beating Rafael Nadal last night at the BNP Paribas Open or, more accurately, this morning, since the match ended at 2am. It looks kind of humorous to say “within five match points” because that’s a lot of match points to squander, but up until that time, Nalbandian had the best of Nadal and it’s worth looking at why that is.

ATP Masters Series

Nalbandian had beaten Nadal in their previous two meetings. Granted, those matches were at Nalbandian’s favorite tournaments and on Nadal’s worst surface: the indoor Masters events in Madrid and Paris, and they were both in 2007, but that Paris match was the final and Nalbandian hosed Nadal 6-4, 6-0.

Nalbandian’s ATP profile says that he weighs 175lbs(79kg). Maybe, but that is one bulky guy and he uses his bulk and excellent stroke mechanics to redirect the ball very effectively. That backhand is strong enough to neutralize Nadal’s biggest weapon: the high kicker into a right-hander’s backhand corner.

There’s another guy on tour who has a two match streak over Nadal going and while Andy Murray is not bulky, he makes up for it with height so the high kicker doesn’t bother him quite so much, and he has that same solid backhand. Nalbandian doesn’t play around with the ball quite as much as Murray, but he’s one of those hybrid counterpunches of which there have been a few in the top ten lately.

Nikolay Davydenko fits in there and so does Gilles Simon. I don’t know what to call Gael Monfils’ style of play. Any suggestions? But those other players are backboards with added spring. They don’t just redirect the ball, they move it all over the place and Nalbandian was hitting corners like crazy in the first two sets last night. Davydenko and Simon are too small to have consistent success against Nadal, but they did both beat him last year.

Novak Djokovic is another guy who redirects the ball well and I was surprised that he has a 4-11 record against Nadal. But Djokovic’s best surface is hard court and in his three matches on hard court against Nadal last year, he won two of them.

Of course, that’s the strategy and skill part of playing Nadal but those five match points tell you something else. Nobody outlasts Nadal, nobody wants it more, and if there’s a way to win a match Nadal will find it. Except for the outlasting part, my pick for second on the list of people sharing those same characteristics is Murray.

Murray now has a 5-2 record over Federer and he’s beaten him the last three times they’ve played – each time losing the first set and winning the next two. It appears to take him a set to figure Federer out, but then he’s o.k. Murray also beat Djokovic the last two times they played.

If Murray can figure out how to win a slam one of these days, and that’s no guarantee because he’s physically fragile relative to the guys in front of him, maybe he’ll be the one tagging along right behind Nadal, not Djokovic and Federer.

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