Open-Nalbandian stunnned as another chance goes begging
By Julian Linden
MELBOURNE, Jan 26 (Reuters) - David Nalbandian is in danger of becoming the nearly man of tennis after the wheels came off another grand slam challenge at the Australian Open on Thursday.
The Argentine fourth seed held a commanding two-set lead in his semi-final against unseeded Cypriot sensation Marcos Baghdatis, only to blow his advantage and go down in five sets.
Nalbandian's defeat was the latest in a worrying series of big-match losses.
Although he has reached the semi-finals of all four grand slams, he is yet to win a major and the only time he made the final was at Wimbledon in 2002 when he finished runner-up to Australia's Lleyton Hewitt.
Baghdatis won the third and fourth sets to force the match into a decider then reeled off four games on the trot after Nalbandian had led 4-2 in the final set to win 3-6 5-7 6-3 6-4 6-4.
"I got a lot of chances to win the match," a still-stunned Nalbandian told a news conference.
"I can't understand how I missed that opportunity to win it. It's quite tough."
Nalbandian's service speed dropped off significantly late in the second set and he spent the rest of match icing his stomach during each change of ends but said the injury was not to blame for his defeat.
"I felt a little bit bad in the abs (abdominal muscles) when I was serving," he said. "It was a little bit tough but I don't think that I lose the match because of the injury."
The 24-year-old from Cordoba looked to have broken his habit of losing big matches when he beat world number one Roger Federer in the final of last year's Masters Cup in Shanghai.
The defeat by Baghdatis, just when he was looming as a genuine contender to win at Melbourne Park, will raise further doubts about his grand slam credentials.
"It wasn't easy, he's playing good," he said of Baghdatis. "He beat a lot of very good tennis players in this tournament."
In 2004 Nalbandian lost in the semi-finals of the French Open to lower-ranked fellow Argentine Gaston Gaudio.
In 2003 at the U.S. Open he was two sets up against Andy Roddick in their semi-final, and held a match point in the third, only to lose in five sets.