I wasn't able to watch much of the match. The stream stopped working for me at 5-2 in the first set, and from then on, I only saw brief glimpses of it on the bad stream but even that didn't work that well so after a while I gave up. I briefly saw the end of the second set, and thought that he seemed too passive/tentative in that 5-4 game, then completely fell apart the next service game.
I've just had a look at three other matches this year where David got broken serving for the set/match. Copa Telmex R2 vs Gimeno-Traver, Sydney final vs Nieminen and Sydney quarterfinal vs Hewitt (which is where it all began this season).
I think the truly disconcerting part is that those games weren't even tightly contested. There were no lengthy deuce battles. Not even saved set/match points - because David never got that far. Instead, he got broken easily, making series of unforced errors or even double faults (on break point). Playing tentatively and without confidence, even during matches he had dominated up to that point. As if serving for the set/match was evoking doubts and fears of failing, rather than excitement at the chance to win.
I mean, it's not like he has never done this kind of thing prior to this season. One example is his third round match against Federer at Paris 2007, where David got broken, serving for the match. But back then, it was Federer on the other side of the net and David didn't just surrender his serve. Federer at least had to fight for that break.
What's new (and very worrying) is both the frequency with which it has been happening this season and the manner in which he has lost those crucial games. The serve might be David's biggest weakness, as well as his self-confessed least favourite shot. But that doesn't explain why those games seem to have become such a big problem this year. When David should be experienced enough to deal with those situations and in fact used to be really good at handling far worse ones.
To be honest, the whole thing reminds me of something Marat Safin once said. About thinking too much on court, constantly constructing different scenarios in your head and somehow, they always tend to be bad ones. I think that this might be what's happening to David in those situations. That he's just thinking too much. And mostly about what happens if he loses that game.
With this match, he probably kept thinking about whether his fever-weakened body would manage to stand up to the test of a third set. It didn't in the end. But perhaps, if he hadn't thought about it quite as much, there wouldn't have been a third set.
Well it's weird that this lack of confidence serving out the set seemed to come/start at a similar time to when he was playing well enough, tennis-wise like it was out of the blue. Even when he's feeling pretty good about himself, that kind of belief doesn't extend to his ability to finish off matches.
It's not the first time he has gotten into this trend though. I remember late 2006/early 2007 as an example of that, almost happening every single time as well. Masters Cup vs Roddick and Ljubicic, Basel against Lopez, Davis Cup against Safin and Davydenko (sometimes he was shaky but managed to hold it off). I think in those cases those games turned out to be more of a fight rather than being broken tamely though.
But I thought last year was the best he had done in closing out matches, giving the impression that maybe he had overcome those problems. But things like this can quickly come back to haunt you I guess.