Nalbandian: An ace on grass
With just 23 years old, David Nalbandian is the man with more DC experience of the five members Alberto Mancini called to the challenge against Australia in the next Davis Cup QF, which start will be next friday. With a record of 8 wins and just one defeat, against Marat Safin, in Moscow, in his bebut in 2002, there's also the capacity the cordobes posseses to perform on grass, something that also shows in his recent Wimbledon QF, and in his final in 2002 against Hewitt and made him the first Argentine finalist in the All England.
Today, with a wide experience in the circuit, Nalbandian is, with Guillermo Coria, one of the two aces of the national team. With an amazing naturality, he moves from one side to the other in the central court of the Sydney International Tennis Centre, but when he talks to the press, Nalbandian leaves his individualism aside and shows his team spirit.
-David, for all your grass records, do you feel like carrying the flag in this team?
-We all have to give our best to win the series. It's complicated. Even if I have the best results on grass, each one of them must give the best to win it, because with just one player there's nothing we can do. Guillermo (Coria) has been playing well and I have a lot of faith in him, and the doubles, due to Woodbridge's retirement, it's even better for us. We have to tighten up for that point.
-In march, when the rival was known and it was Australia, there was some talking about grass and the bothering it usually provokes in the Argentine players. Beyond the inconvenients for the court's state, the five of you seem confortable, with a different attitude.
-We're fine, knowing they're more favourite than us. It's a tough series, but we have a lot of possibilities. We know that playing on grass is not the best for us, but we have a very good team that can win.
-A quiz in the local TV assures that Australia is just favourite by 53%. Do you agree?
-Just 53%?! I would say 60%
-Wally Masur, one of the responsables of the local team, said that your presence and Coria's it's a whole dilemma for Australia.
-Masur shows the same respect we have towards them. If it were in some other surface, we would be the favourites, but grass makes them more favourites to them. I can't deny the respect we have for them. They've showed they're great players and Australia, in its history, won many times the DC. We shouldn't underestimate them. I also think that the crowd will play a great role in the series.
-Personally, who much is this series worth to you knowing you had an irregular year?
-It's important. Even more because the DC is something all of us want to win. I think we should take advantage of all the opportunities. Even if this year we didn't have the ideal draw to win it, I think we shouldn't let our chances go away. We're in the QF and (Mark) Philippoussis and Woodbridge are out, something we didn't think it could happen. If we can take advantage of it, it's better.
-What's your season analysis?
-I had a great Wimbledon and that allowed me to recover some confidence I had lost. I come here quite well for the Davis Cup, which always gives you an extra motivation.
-I'll take a little bit further in the past. What happened to you in Hallem in the match you were disqualified against Schuettler?
-I was mad, I was tired and the chip in my head blocked. After that I felt badly, I went home, and took a few days off. I think it was good to me to stop and rest.
-The fact that you and Coria are here without coaches, has a especial meaning?
-No, I think we have Luli (Mancini) and a great tecnical team. It wasn't necessary that the people that's usually with me would come too, knowing the distance they have to travel to come to Australia.
-You played two important matches against Hewitt. One was the Wimbledon final, on grass, and another one here, this year in the Australian Open in which you lost by very little. What do you have to do to beat him?
-He's a very tough guy. In january it could have been to anyone of us. The key point in Australia is him, and I think he has more possibilities to win his two matches than we have to beat him. But we'll have to win both points and the doubles. And if we can edge Hewitt out, the better.
-That's the key then? Both Arthurs points and the doubles?
-I think so. It's easier to win the doubles than to take a point off of Hewitt.
Etlis, a strong candidate for the doubles
Even if the captain Alberto Mancini doesn't want to talk till the wednesday dinner and say who the other singlist will be, the last practice session could give us a hint: Gastón Etlis trained with Martín Rodriguez and with David Nalbandian, which would put Mariano Puerta aside.
For now they're just guesses which doesn't affect the team's mood. The five players came here knowing one of them wouldn't play, and even Puerta commented that if he wasn't part of the team he would leave on thursday to participate in the Amersfoort tournament.
The practice started with Nalbandian and Coria making some rallies, and when it was time for the doubles, he went to White City, and there he trained with the Junior
Leonardo Mayer, the Argentine team sparring.
-Is Hewitt unbeatablen on grass and as a local?
—If you put on a Federer mask, no (laughs). That's the only unbeatable. I trust in David beating Hewitt, he's got a better game than him. I'll put on a fight and if I can't make it, at least I'll try to make him tired, because he'll be playing the three days.
-You praise David a lot.
—Yes, but not just on grass. He's a very complete player and cand destroy you in any surface. He's very respected in the circuit. That's why it's so important he's ours, Argentine.
David said that he felt really confortable playing doubles with Puerta and Etlis. But he knows Etlis better cause they've played a tournament together.
Etlis: "I'm sure Nalbandian will play it, unless he doesn't want to or if he's too tired to play on friday."
The court is in a bad state, the grass hasn't been cut and it was too humid. David thinks they will cut it to make it faster on friday.
And a newspaper told that after the Australian team ended their practice, the captain went to greet the Argentines, however Arthurs and Hewitt left without even saying hi.
There's a couple
On monday there was a revelation day in Australia. Because finally, after 4 days, the argentine team could put a foot on the Sydney International Tennis Centre court. And also because the captain, Alberto Mancini gave some clear signs of the doubles team, an enigma yet to be resolved.
Nalbandian and Coria started practicing for 60 minutes, and getting used to the court. And what bothered them the most wasn't the grass, but the sun. You can see it from the front in one side, and in the other everything is shadows and the reflection is strong. "I don't see even a line" started Nalbandian. "I can't see anything from here" said Coria. While they played tennis. Coria, with a lot of enthusiasm, showed in every ball that his performance in Wimbledon wasn't a fluke. It was half an hour of warming up and the rest to play. Nalbandian gave a lesson of how to play with slice. The court is much slower than they thought it was gonna be, and the ball couldn't even bounce with the cordobes's effects.
There were a lot of rallies and praises("good one, Willy", said David; "Perfect David", said Guillermo) and there was even a luxury from Coria with a great Willy and a winner which made some curious Australians who were present applaud him.
Their turn was over and they wanted to play some more. So why the local Arthurs took his time to practice with Luczak, Nalbandian ran to other minor hardcourt to practice wth Etlis and Mayer, the Junior sparring.
The second hour the Argentine team had for the main court, Mancini took it for the doubles (Coria went to train with Mayer). They started with Nalbandian and Puerta against Etlis-Rodriguez. Since David and Etlis were the ones playing the best, Luli decided to put them together. That's the couple that's been in Luli's head for a while. So Puerta would be out of the team, and in case Mancini decides Nalbandian shouldn't play on saturday, he would choose a couple that knows each other really well: Etlis-Rodriguez.
The training time was coming to an end and the "I don't see anything" was very common to here among the four players in the court. A volley from Etlis bounced very near the line and they asked Mancini to tell them if it was good or not. But Mancini following their complaints said: "I didn't see anything. Besides, if I say something, you'll say I have a favourite"