by Pete Bodo
Well, this pretty much seals the deal - it's officially Kolya time. I'll say this for Nikolay Davydenko, he's the consumate professional in terms of taking advantage of his opportunities. I think he's played less (and been injured more) in recent times than at the beginning of his career, but he's established himself over the years as the ultimate worker bee in men's tennis.
Davydenko doesn't complain (as far as I know) about the number of tournaments he plays; if anything, he'd probably gripe that there aren't enough of them. He doesn't seem as disgruntled as some of his peers by the touring way of life. His attitude seems to be, just tell me where to show up and play, and make sure you spell the name right on the check. This is Kolya's 19th tournament; six more than Roger Federer has played. He'll probably end up playing 21 or 22 - and the Davis Cup was a washout this year, so he couldn't add those weeks to his toll either.
Over the years, we've seen a number of other players who fall squarely into this Can't Get Enough tradition. Most of you are too young to remember the New Zealander, Onny Parun (he played early in the pro era). I think Onny figured he had to travel so far from home to play tennis that there was no point in going back once he hit the road. Then there was Tomas Smid, or Smidley, as many called him. He was a more recent vintage, and being Czech made his life somewhat easier, travel-wise. But he was a road warrior, too. He played every place that would have him, never uttered a compaint, and almost always played doubles, too. And it wasn't so long ago that wing-ding Jelena Jankovic seemed bent on shattering the mark for most frequent flier miles accumulated in a single year by a WTA pro.
Many others also play an insanely loaded schedule, but the good players who do so are a breed apart. People always snicker at these workhorses, and suggest that they're merely avaricious, but I don't really buy that. I think there's a certain dispostion to which this kind of grinding comes naturally; these players are workaholics, not just greedy pros feathering their nests for the future. And while Jankovic is an exception, these tireless spear carriers trend toward being a little grim. Maybe they're depressed, like that guy who stays at the office until 8 pm every night, and has black bags under his eyes. The last thing he would think to do, in terms of a meaningful change of life, is work less.
Here's something I found pretty amazing, though. Given that Kolya is ranked no. 8 in the world and this is his 20th tournament, he's earned "only" $1.3 million in prize-money this year. I'd happily swap bank accounts with him, and so would many of you, I presume. But that's not really the point. In relative terms, Kolya's prize-money is surprisingly low. I don't even dare to look at what a golfer with a comparable resume - Davydenko is certainly a high-value name and a staple in late stages of important tournaments- pulls down.
And even if Kolya is chasing the money, what's the big deal? I thought that's why we ended up with Open tennis in the first place, because tennis players wanted to be paid for what they did best, and it was usually the only thing they wanted to do. A player can love the game and the life and like the money too, right?
But Kolya is up against it today, even though his slap-shot style and quickness are great assets on the surfaces of the fall tour. He's facing a - dare I say it? - resurgent Rafael Nadal, who can out-muscle him, outsteady him, and neutralize Kolya's quick-strike instincts with speed and punishing counter-punching. It might do wonders for Nadal to win his first tournament since he returned from his long break (he was dealing with knee tendinitis), and it will be interesting to see if adding another Masters 1000 to his collection, with the Tennis Masters Cup looming on the horizon, will propel him back into the no. 1 conversation. We still have a pretty long way to go this year in a number of ways, weeks being the least of them.
Happy Sunday, everyone. I'm on the road most of the day but back with you on Monday