From Krystels Blog on the Hamburg Finals.
Heading into yesterday’s Hamburg final, Nikolay Davydenko was a strong favourite to take the title in Hamburg over Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu. But for a moment there, it looked like it was going to be a close contest, a toe-to-toe baseline duel of big groundstrokes.
Mathieu came out firing perhaps knowing that anything less wouldn’t cut it against Davydenko, trying to push Davydenko around, to avoid the same being done to him. It was a clash of a similar brand of attacking tennis, rallies traded at lightning pace back and forth.
Mathieu went an early break up, and I was initially surprised that the Frenchman was able to play this brand of tennis and end up on the winning side of those rallies more often than not. He must have been playing right at the peak of his abilities. When I looked at the strengths and weaknesses of both players, it definitely looked like Davydenko was capable of doing everything a little better than Mathieu. Particularly in terms of movement and ability to change directions, not to mention that Davydenko loves to work with the pace he’s given with.
Mathieu’s run of form really only lasted about three or four games or so, and by then Davydenko had started to really find his form and timing. Because of his movement, it’s like Davydenko catches each ball at the top of the bounce, hitting it in the most favourable of positions even when being stretched out wide. But I also like how well he sets up for his strokes, how it seems like by the time he’s making contact with the ball, his feet are firmly planted in the ground, not still recovering from the sprint.
It’s no wonder that he can dash from side-to-side so quickly then when his feet are ready to move the other way as soon as he’s finished his stroke. Because he hits the ball at the top of the bounce, it also enables him better margin on the down-the-line shots that he likes so much, less chance of hitting the net.
It ended up being more of a showcase of Davydenko’s shotmaking from midway in the first set onwards which is where he really started to hit his straps. Consistently creating angles and accurate down-the-line shots to take Mathieu out of the court, and essentially out of the match, helpless to do anything but defend. As well as Mathieu can attack while being on the front foot in a rally, he’s nowhere near as good at turning defense into attack as Davydenko. If he’s stretched out wide, he’s not going to be hitting a down-the-line winner.
What he needed to do was try to keep Davydenko off-balance and limit his offensive options, but that’s a difficult task in itself if you consider how difficult it is to get Davydenko off balance. Davydenko doesn’t compromise as much as other players, he likes to take risks and he can because his movement and footwork is so good. He doesn’t block a whole lot of shots back preferring to take a full swing most times which I think is one reason why his return of serve is so good. He could be on the full stretch returning a serve that lands right on the line, down the T and he’ll still set himself up to take a full swing and return it with interest deep close to the baseline.
There was not a whole lot Mathieu could do, and it ended up being one-way traffic for Davydenko. Unfortunately for Mathieu, he started to run out of ideas after the end of the first set. He occasionally tried to make things happen but he was too far behind the baseline that instead, all he did was make things easier for Davydenko.
In the end, it was a relatively one-sided match for Davydenko after the first four games, which resulted in his first title of the year. His ranking took a hit earlier in the year after injury, meaning that he wasn’t able to defend some of his points, but I’d like to see him start to make a climb up the rankings again and edge closer towards the top 5, where he belongs.
Posted by Krystle Lee at 12:30 PM 0 comments
Labels: Nikolay Davydenko, Paul-Henri Mathieu