PREVIEW-Nalbandian primed for grand slam glory
Thu Jan 12, 2006 12:03 PM GMT
By Greg Stutchbury
MELBOURNE, Jan 12 (Reuters) - When a slightly-built 20-year-old from Cordoba arrived at the All England Club in 2002 for his first professional grasscourt tournament, few took any notice.
Six matches later, following five-set victories over Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti and Belgium's Xavier Malisse, David Nalbandian had confounded the tennis world by making the final.
That fairytale ended rather quickly when Australia's Lleyton Hewitt smashed him off court in a 6-1 6-3 6-2 victory.
Fast forward three years and Nalbandian gained sweet revenge. In the Davis Cup. In Sydney. On grass.
The Argentine produced a near-perfect display against Hewitt in a 6-2 6-4 6-4 quarter-final victory that sealed the tie.
That result was no fluke and Nalbandian underlined he was ready to cement his place amongst the game's elite in November with a courageous defeat of world number one Roger Federer.
He came from two sets down to beat Federer in the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai, ending the Swiss player's run of 24 consecutive final victories.
"It was a big step. Of course Shangahi gave me more confidence to try to take the first one (grand slam), " Nalbandian said this week ahead of next week's Australian Open.
His hopes have been increased by the absence of champion Marat Safin, world number two Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi through injury.
Nalbandian himself had to withdraw from the Kooyong Classic with a viral infection.
The right-hander with just the right mixture of guile and power has been seeded fourth and should move past the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time.
The Argentine's status as a potential champion has been increased by his Shanghai heroics.
"I guess Nalbandian has a good chance," Germany's Tommy Haas said at Kooyong.
"There are so many good players out there but when David is playing at his best then Roger may feel a bit more uncomfortable."