Davydenko Wins 2009 Tennis YEC

13:10 Mon 30 Nov 2009. Updated: 16:26 28 Dec 2009
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Nikolay Davydenko won the 2009 ATP Finals yesterday with a surprise 6–3, 6–4 win over Juan Martin Del Potro. While Davydenko was seeded 6, just one behind Del Potro at 5, this was a significant upset. Del Potro looked very strong after his initial round-robin loss to Andy Murray, and won the last Grand Slam of the season, the US Open.


Nicolay Davydenko at the 2009 ATP Finals, London.

Photograph by balalmahmood

Davydenko certainly didn’t have an easy route to his first major victory. He lost to Djokovic in the first round-robin match, then beat Nadal in straight sets (Nadal had a very poor tournament), and Söderling in three (Söderling had already secured a place in the semifinals). Davydenko then faced Roger Federer, who he had never beaten in twelve meetings between the two. I thought that Federer was a lock for that match, but Davydenko got him in three. Del Potro took care of Söderling in a very tight match that went to a third-set tiebreak, and displayed some incredible power tennis along the way.

Davydenko has never won a major. He’s won Masters Series events (Paris 2006, Miami 2008, Shanghai 2009) but has generally been outclassed by the elite players while remaining remarkably consistent—this is the first year since 2005 that he hasn’t ended the year in the top five, and that’s partly due to injuries he had early in the season. His consistency really shone at this event, as the rest of the top eight seemed to suffer significant lapses in form throughout (except perhaps for Söderling).

The latter part of the 2009 season, from the US Open to the YEC, has shown just how open the field is. Del Potro’s defeat of Federer at the US Open was significant in showing that someone other than Nadal could beat Roger in a major final, and because Del Potro is very early in his career. If Del Potro had won the YEC, he’d be a clear favorite for Australia, but a straight-sets loss to Davydenko alters that picture. No seed lower than five has won the Australian Open since 2002, could that change in 2010?

Roger Federer is still a favorite, but he’s been far more erratic in 2009 than for years prior. He showed an iron resilience and stellar concentration (especially on his serve) in the Wimbledon final, but served terribly and couldn’t seem to retain his focus when he needed it most in both the Australian Open and US Open finals. He’s still got to be a favorite for the tournament, but as a dedicated Federer fan I have to admit I’m a little more worried about him than usual. Still, his number one ranking looks secure enough at the moment, in part because the number two looks to be fading.

Rafael Nadal is in possibly the worst slump of his career. He’s the defending champion, but it just doesn’t seem like he’s got what it takes right now—he himself has said he lacks the “calm” required to win the big points against top opposition.

Novak Djokovic looks like a real threat to win his second Australian Open. He played very well at the end of the year, failing to make it into the semifinals of the YEC due to winner a lower percentage of sets than Davydenko. However, he suffers in the heat, which is often a factor in Melbourne.

Andy Murray also failed to get through to the YEC semifinals despite a 2–1 round-robin record. I’m not convinced Murray has the offense necessary to win a major, and so don’t think he’ll win in Australia, but he’s definitely a threat.

Juan Martin Del Potro is a definite contender, particularly given the way he’s handled Federer in their last two matches. His conditioning seems much better than it has been in the past, and the main question for me is his focus.

Nikolay Davydenko is an outside shot at best, even given his Shanghai and YEC wins. Critically, those are best-of-three, and he’s never demonstrated the ability to challenge top players in best-of-five matches.

Andy Roddick is injured, and I’m not sure he’ll be fully recovered in time for the Australian. If he is, I think he’s got a shot at it, despite his poor performance at the US Open. I still have my doubts that he has good enough shot selection to win another Slam, but huge serving, excellent movement, and a big forehand can bring a player a long way.

Robin Söderling is playing the best tennis of his life, and gave Del Potro a real challenge at the YEC. I don’t see him winning the Australian Open, but he might make it to the semifinals.

Fernando Verdasco has faded badly after the 2009 Australian Open, where he played in what many regard as the year’s best match against Nadal. Since then, his results have been rather poor. But it’s possible that a return to Australia will again spur his best form.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga remains inconsistent and dangerous, but I don’t see him getting to the final again.

I think Federer, Djokovic, and Del Potro are the favorites. I hate to count Nadal out, particularly given his spirit, but he’d really have to turn his current form around to have a good shot. While my picks are all in the top five, it seems to me that the top five are weaker than usual against the rest of the field. Once again, Federer and the number one ranking will be a major story for the year, as will his quest to add more majors to his record.

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