Re: What we do think of this year?
Gosh I didn't mean to write such an awfully long piece. I started to bore myself writing it when I got halfway through but it appears that I am completely incapable of being concise.
Analysis of the 2008 season
The 2008 season was one that started with huge expectations for Nalbandian following his back-to-back Masters Series titles, which at the time were arguably the biggest of his career, or at least most impressive. Importantly, following his victories, it seemed like he had shown improvements in his game and mental attitude both in his matches and his approach to his tennis. There were numerous reports of the off-season work that he had put in to try and achieve his goals and win that elusive slam, which were not only words but described specifically by him and his team as if he had a plan.
Frustratingly, David was struck with injury again in the lead-up to the Australian Open at Kooyong suffering from back spasms, and subsequently his preparation to the event was hampered. Surprisingly when he turned up at the Australian Open, it didn't look like he had put in that off-season work that was mentioned, leading me to wonder why he wouldn't want to maximise his chances of doing well when he was playing some of his best tennis, then I decided that it's better off from now on not to try and figure out why he does what he does, because there probably is no reason. It is important to emphasise that none of his actions here negatively affected my opinion of him, it is more just of an analysis. It is only what has happened that was referred to in my previous post that has.
His Australian Open campaign was relatively short-lived, recording his earliest loss at the Australian Open since 2002. David lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-1 6-2 6-3, recording a statistic of 0 winners, 13 unforced errors until the end of the second set. His performance was lacking in energy and he seemed to show a strange lack of confidence, but he did at least raise his level in the third set but Ferrero was playing at too high of a level to make a comeback. In hindsight, this match belongs to a similar category to some of his other dud matches, but it didn't really go along with the trend of the matches that he played after that. At the time, there was a feeling that he simply had a bad day, a very bad one at that and the lack of match practice obviously didn't help, especially after a long off-season of inactivity.
He then went on to play the Davis Cup match against Great Britain. Not much to comment on here. It was a routine tie as expected. Buenos Aires was where his season first kicked off, where he won the title winning numerous closely contested matches and it was reported that while the level of tennis he displayed was average, he showed very good fighting spirit and mental strength to prevail in all of those matches. He then travelled to Acapulco to play a second consecutive optional event the following week. I was able to watch most of his matches that week and I thought he showed a good consistent level of play, showing promise that maybe he would be able to maintain some consistency of results this season. He had a slow start against Almagro and was outplayed in the final, but overall it was a very positive few weeks for him.
Well fought matches and good mental strength were a consistent theme for him in this part of the season as he often dug himself out of losing situations and was able to back up his effort with his ability to play the big points well, as evidenced by the impressive tie-breaker record that he had built up in this early part of the season. This was no different in Indian Wells where in his first two rounds, both Gulbis and Stepanek served for the match but on both occasions, he was able to come back and win the match in a third set TB. He eventually lost to Fish in a match where he showed questionable tactics, however his determination to win the match was not in doubt. There was a feeling in this match that he was outplayed, but he still got himself in a position to serve out the match, but Fish played a better third set TB and match overall in the end. His run in Miami was short-lived bowing out first round to Malisse, a match that was not televised. Considering the consistent set of results that he had posted prior to this loss, there was no need to think much of this loss and the focus soon reverted back to Davis Cup.
For me, his performances that were to come, in Davis Cup against Sweden and in Monte Carlo were the highlights of the season and the most enjoyable for me to watch, both for different reasons. His performance against Soderling was an emotional rollercoaster where he was pushed to the limit to 9-7 in the fifth set, and one where he showed tremendous determination in trying to win each and every point, and will go down as one of the most memorable matches in his career. His post-match reaction where he broke down in tears was reflective of the huge emotional effort that he put into this match.
In Monte Carlo was where David played his best tennis of the season. All three of his matches, against Rochus, Robredo and Federer were a joy to watch. I was also impressed with his tactical mind as he dismantled both Rochus and Robredo in a different fashion, employing different tactics in both of those matches. He was on fire against Robredo and as a result, it was an absolute beatdown. He carried on that form in the first set against Federer and it was an incredibly high standard of tennis from both players. In the second and third sets, his level dropped off a bit but it was a good performance overall. While David had showed some impressive form, there was a feeling that it was still very early in the clay season, so no expectations yet at this stage.
Not much needs to be said about his run in Barcelona and Rome, where not much happened out of the ordinary. I did not watch his match against Wawrinka nor did anyone else, and he lost to Almagro in Rome who had posted consistently impressive results on clay this year and had beaten him earlier in Acapulco. His form against Almagro was average and I remember in that match that he saved something like 9 match points all with good purposeful play but was not consistent. He then skipped Hamburg which was a move that had already been planned from before the start of the claycourt season, although it was later reported also that he had some sort of injury and that he had been struggling with some niggling injuries since the Davis Cup QF.
After a couple of weeks off, he returned in the French Open. In the early parts of the tournament (although it was short-lived), from what I saw and based on reports, it looked like he was playing confidently with sufficient energy and adopting an aggressive game coming to the net quite often although he may not necessarily have been executing it well at times. I thought that was interesting because that was not how he played earlier in the clay season, but I don't think I watched anywhere near enough to accurately comment on that. After being up two sets to love against Chardy in the second round, he started to show signs of a leg injury which hampered his movement. It was difficult in this match to determine what effort he sufficiently could have put in because of the injury, but at times he just stood there on shots that he could have reached only by sticking his racquet out. At the time, I decided not to think much of this match but as said earlier, in hindsight, this match shows some of the same things that he showed in his later matches, so in some ways this match was some sort of turning point.
Following his French Open loss, he went back to Argentina to recuperate his injuries and prepare for Wimbledon. Expectations were low at this point and I did not believe that he would be able to physically last in a five set match given his injury. He had decided to play on with the injury at Queen's and Wimbledon, so with that in mind, if he decides to take to court knowing that he is in a certain condition, he should be expected to put in a half-decent performance, unless if it gets noticeably worse during the match of course. He did surprisingly well at Queen's actually reaching the semi-finals posting wins against Troicki, Mahut and Gasquet playing some solid tennis. Unfortunately his efforts that week were overshadowed by his performance or lack thereof against Djokovic where he was thrashed 6-1 6-0. Following this match, Djokovic looked puzzled and embarrassed to have won the match in such a manner and said that he didn't know who was on the court on there today. In this case, it did not look that injuries could sufficiently explain his performance as he was most definitely capable of putting in a much better performance than that.
It was the same old story at Wimbledon, except the fact that it happened in the first round match in a Grand Slam, reflected much worse on him, but also because it was the second consecutive ATP match where he put in a performance like this. There was a distinct lack of energy in his match against Dancevic, a lack of focus, a lack of purpose in his shot selections and he was consistently framing shots on the forehand side. His performance was absolutely terrible to say the least. He was not going for anything on his shots but still timing it awfully and missing by large margins. What I did not understand in this match was the lack of belief and confidence in a match like this against a player of the calibre of Dancevic where he surely should believe that if he can raise his standard of play at least to some extent that he can be competitive in this match. Also, it was not like had posted extremely poor results prior to the event that would result in a lack of confidence. We already knew he was injured prior to the event and his movement did not seem to be hampered enough to explain away his poor performance in this match. It was believed that if anything that the injuries affected him mentally more than anything else.
Following this match, David took some extended time off to sufficiently recover from his injuries instead of trying to play through it like he did earlier. He returned at the Olympics, an event which he had mentioned several times as one of his huge priorities, and one that he was highly motivated to do well in. He won two routine matches as he was expected to against the Chinese wildcard (the name escapes me now) and Massu before going down to Monfils. Considering his performances in the last few matches that I saw him play, I took his performance against Monfils as a positive where he didn't play badly, played purposefully and seemed suitably engaged in the match. But more importantly, he commented after the match that he remained pain-free during the tournament which was a breakthrough for him.
Onto the US Open where he routinely won his first two matches as he was expected to before his first test where he played against Monfils again. I have written about this enough in the previous post so no need to go through it again, but it showed a trend in his matches where he doesn't try to grind it out until the end and loses focus instead. In this case, the manner in which he lost it was more dramatic and embarrassing as he was hitting dropshots all over the place as if it were a legitimate tactic and suitably he got burnt every single time.