Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Davydenko can hail his finest hour

Nikolay Davydenko grasps the prize after his stunning win in the ATP World Tour Finals

Maybe people will start asking for Nikolay Davydenko's autograph now.

The top 10 player with the lowest profile in tennis admitted that he had not been troubled once for his autograph since arriving for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, but after beating Juan Martin del Potro to claim the biggest win of his career Davydenko said he was looking forward to being “just a little bit famous here”.

The final was one of the poorest matches of the week, but that was of no concern to the new world No 6, who won 6-3, 6-4 to earn $1.51m (about £916,000), the largest cheque of his life. He is only the third winner in the 40-year history of these end-of-season championships without a Grand slam title to his name.

Although 28-year-old Davydenko reached a career-high No 3 in the world rankings three years ago, he has spent almost his whole career flying beneath the media radar.

When the press met the players before the tournament started there were huge throngs around Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, while Davydenko was hardly troubled. Even when the table he was sitting at collapsed barely anybody noticed.

Until now almost the only occasion when Davydenko did attract the media's attention was when a betting exchange voided all wagers on one of his matches at a tournament in Poland two summers ago.

The Russian retired hurt against the unfancied Martin Vassallo Arguello, who had been heavily backed by punters. After an investigation no charges were brought against either player.

If the Russian lacks charisma, there can be no doubting his talent. At only 5ft 10in tall and less than 11 stone, he is comparatively small, particularly in comparison to a 6ft 6in giant like Del Potro.

He relies on his consistently aggressive ball —striking, speed around the court and eagle eye — he takes the ball earlier than almost anyone — to wear down opponents. “He's very fast,” Del Potro said. “He plays like PlayStation, running everywhere. It's very difficult to make winners against him.”

The crowd was again a 17,500 sell-out, although there were a number of empty seats.

Some who had bought tickets in advance were no doubt hoping to see at least one of the world's top four players in action.

One enterprising fan brought a placard saying ‘Come on Del Potro!’ on which the names of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic had been crossed out.

The only break in the first set came in the fourth game. At deuce, having already saved one break point, Del Potro was foot-faulted on his first serve.

After the first of three staring contests with the line judge and a discussion with the umpire — you wondered for a moment whether he was a going to take a leaf out of the Serena Williams guidebook to handling match officials — the Argentinian lost the next two points with unforced errors.

A baby crying in the crowd — Del Potro wondered afterwards whether the child had “got bored watching the match” — did not seem to help his concentration and Davydenko served out for the set.

The Russian made the only break of the second set — to love — in the ninth game. After completing his collection of 2009 Grand Slam champions' scalps — he had already beaten Federer (for the first time at the 13th attempt) and Nadal earlier in the tournament — Davydenko threw his racket to the floor and thrust his arms skywards in celebration.

If Davydenko was not the winner that organisers had hoped for, the event has, nevertheless, been a huge success, drawing the biggest crowds ever to watch tennis in Britain and the highest aggregate attendance (256,830) for a tournament other than Wimbledon.

The championships are here until 2013 and their future success looks guaranteed.

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