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Tuesday September 17, 02:01 AM

Wimbledon leads to Davis Cup for Nalbandian

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - David Nalbandian's run at Wimbledon has had the spin-off effect of catapulting him into Argentina's team for the Davis Cup semi-final against Russia in Moscow this weekend.

The 20-year-old Nalbandian, from the small town of Unquilluo, nestled in the Andean foothills around 35 kilometres from Cordoba, has never played Davis Cup tennis but forced his way into the team after finishing runner-up to Australia's Lleyton Hewitt at the All England Club in July.

Leading Argentina to the final would cap an amazing year for Nalbandian, who had never been beyond the third round at any Grand Slam event until Wimbledon and who has been on the professional circuit for less than two years.

Nalbandian's Wimbledon run has already put his sleepy home town on the map and more than doubled his career earnings in one fell swoop.

A giant tennis racquet, 3.60 metres high, now marks the entrance to the town to remind visitors of its most famous resident. Nalbandian himself was welcomed by hundreds of wellwishers when he returned home from Wimbledon and many more admirers lined the route to watch his 50-car convoy drive past.

Local officials declared him an "illustrious citizen" and there are even plans to erect a statue of him.


After Nalbandian reached the Wimbledon final, there was a party in the town's streets, and friends carried his father Norberto down the Avenida San Martin on their shoulders. The family celebrated by roasting a goat.

"It is certainly a respite from the day-to-day slog of real life," said Norberto, a motorcycle mechanic,

On the day of the final itself, Nalbandian's family and friends took to the streets in a pick-up truck covered with national flags for a lap of honour.

A local hot-dog stand near their home has been re-named King David and buses now drop off passengers at a stop called David's Corner. Locals have dubbed the fervour "Nalbandiamania".

Yet when Nalbandian was born, on January 1 1982, the town did not even have a tennis court.

Nalbandian's father, his two older brothers and a group of neighbours got together to build Unquillo's two public courts without imagining the results they would bring.

At the age of five, Nalbandian began playing for the first time.

Seven years later, he was the best in the country in his age group.


In 1999, Nalbandian reached the semi-finals of the Wimbledon juniors tournament but then disaster struck.

Following confusion caused by rain delays, Nalbandian misunderstood the time of his match and was in the dressing room sending messages on his mobile phone when he should have been on court.

He lost by walkover.

After entering the professional circuit, Nalbandian's first breakthrough came last season, when he rose more than 200 places to improve his world ranking from 248 to 47.

He followed that up with his first tour title in April, beating former champions Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya en route to winning the Estoril Open, the season's first clay-court event.

Nalbandian's second love is rally driving and he recently went for a spin at the Cordoba racetrack at the invitation of the teams competing in the local championship.

His success has given his family a welcome break from the hardship of daily life in Argentina which has been hit by a severe economic crisis that has included a freeze on bank accounts.

Nalbandian won 262,000 pounds ($409,400) at Wimbledon. "I don't think I'll be putting my winnings in an Argentine bank," he said.

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That is very wise David:D
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