Nalbandian still looking for big-time breakthrough
By Nick Mulvenney
SHANGHAI, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Argentine David Nalbandian returns to the scene of his greatest triumph this weekend still looking to step into the acknowledged elite of the men's tour.
When he beat world number one Roger Federer at the Qi Zhong stadium to win the Masters Cup last year, Nalbandian said he thought the victory would help make him a real force on the big occasions.
Whereas Amelie Mauresmo used her victory at the women's year-ending championship as a springboard to two grand slam titles this year, however, Nalbandian has had a very good but hardly world-beating year.
The 24-year-old has won only one tournament, at Estoril, and reached the semi-finals at the Australian and French Opens as well as at Masters Series events in Madrid, Miami and Rome, claiming a career-high singles ranking of third in the world along the way.
Four and a half years after reaching the Wimbledon final in his first professional grasscourt tournament, a player of Nalbandian's quality would have liked to have accumulated more than five tournament wins -- the tally current world number three Nikolay Davydenko has claimed this year.
Unlike Davydenko, whom he is likely to meet when Argentina take on Russia in the Davis Cup final in December, Nalbandian picks and chooses his tournaments. Stomach upsets have further reduced his playing time this season by forcing him to miss the China Open and Paris Masters.
"Sometimes the players are getting tired from a long season, long tournament," he said at the Madrid Masters last month. "And I don't play too many tournaments. So maybe that's why I come to the indoors in very good shape."
Tough and with powerful strokes on both sides, Nalbandian likes the kind of indoor rebound surface on which he will play Federer in the first match on Sunday, a repetition of last year's final.
Being around at the same time as such dominant players as nine-times grand slam champion Federer does not help when you are looking to make a breakthrough at big tournaments and the Swiss has beaten him in the semis at Rome, Madrid and Roland Garros this year.
There was a time, however, when Nalbandian had the measure of his near contemporary, beating him in the U.S. Open junior final in 1998 and in their first five meetings as professionals.
Federer has won seven of their last eight meetings, the exception being the thrilling five-set final in Shanghai last year.
In that match, Nalbandian demonstrated his tenacity when he came back from two sets down to beat the world's best player and it would be unwise to bet against him claiming the prestigious title again next week.