Davydenko proves he can win at ATP finals

BY foxsports • December 15, 2009

Nikolay Davydenko said it was his concentration. Juan Martin del Potro said it was because his opponent performed like a PlayStation. Either way, the conclusion of the first ATP World Finals to be played in London ended with Davydenko winning the biggest title of his career with a stunningly easy, 6-3, 6-4 victory in just 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Last year in Shanghai, Davydenko lost in the final to Novak Djokovic. Then at the start of 2009, he was forced off the tour for three months with a foot injury. It is no coincidence, then, that this little Russian master has looked fresher in mind and body than some of his colleagues on the demanding ATP tour in these closing weeks of the season.

But making the most of the thin advantages that can be gained among such a goal-oriented and talented group of competitors is what makes the difference. Davydenko was able to seize the opportunities presented to him with a verve and a style that will not be forgotten by the crowd of 17,400 who came to cheer this unlikely hero.

Being short and balding and very unlike the conventional image of a sporting superstar does not matter if you have the fleetness of foot and the quickness of arm that Davydenko has displayed to such startling effect here in the past week.

"He's very fast," del Potro said afterward. "You know, he runs to everywhere. He plays like PlayStation. It is very difficult to make winners against him. I think he is great champion."

Those were gracious words from the tall Argentine who could not reproduce the counterattacking winners that enabled him to come back against Roger Federer in the U.S. Open final in September. Too often toward the end, del Potro, who moves languidly at the best of times, seemed a fraction late as the Russian's raking drives forced him from one end of his baseline to the other. Balls flopped into the net off del Potro's backhand, and even his dangerous forehand started to fray at the edges.

That is what the razor-sharp ground strokes that fly off Davydenko's racket can do to an opponent. Although he had to fend off three break points on his serve -- two crucially in the sixth game of the second set -- he was never seriously pressured by his powerful opponent.

So it was a classic win for the little man -- the 5-foot-10 athlete who showed this game is about skill as much as height and power and speed is of the essence.

Alex Metreveli, the 1972 Wimbledon finalist and longtime commentator on Russian television, said Davydenko has a way to go yet before he can be classed alongside Russia's two Grand Slam winners, Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. But Metreveli recognizes the new champion is as quick as they come.

"Amazing feet, good hands, too," he said. "But a Grand Slam winner? We will have to see."

Davydenko would not argue with that assessment.

"If Grand Slam is coming best-of-three sets, yes," he said. "I enjoy winning Slam, perhaps every one because winning in three sets is easy. I know del Potro was strong, and I know he can play first, second set and then third, fourth and fifth with really good power. That was maybe how beat Federer in the final of the U.S. Open. But you can play different tennis. Not only big serve. You can get good return, good control, play volley. How fast you're running is also important and, for sure, concentration. It's like everything together."

That's the package this amazing athlete has put together, and under the right conditions, it can be enough. He is slowly learning how to prepare himself, something that does not come easily to a lot of players whose schedules do them no favors.

A fresh mind seemed to be the key factor here.

"Before this tournament, I go to Moscow," Davydenko said. "Six days I didn't hit. I didn't take a racket. I didn't practice. I didn't do anything. And now coming here Wednesday, I practice just three days. I didn't know if I can be physically fit for this tournament. But step by step from the first match against Djokovic (which he lost in the round robin) maybe I get more chances, more confidence. And today I had 100 percent concentration. That was important."

So Davydenko said he is off to the Maldives to spend some of the $1.5 million he won. When he arrives in Australia for the new campaign, he will be viewed in a different light -- even by those colleagues in the locker room who have long been aware of this man's great gifts.

Richard Evans, who commentated at Wimbledon on BBC Radio for 20 years, has been covering tennis since the 1960s and has reported on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is the author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." He lives in Florida but is still on the tour 20 weeks in the year.

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