January 7, 2011

Well Isn't This Interesting...?

While many of the world's top players packed up their suitcases to head Down Under in preparation for the Australian Open, a couple of the most elite stayed in the Western hemisphere to fight amid the desert in Doha. And with both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer entered in the ExxonMobil Open in Qatar, us fans started to get excited about the possibility of another match-up between the two greats.

We'll have to wait a bit longer.

For most of the week the seedings in Doha played out as expected. Seven of the eight top players made the quarters and the first four all reached the semis -- Rafa and Roger were joined by Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and defending champ Nikolay Davydenko. But despite their rankings, the ascent of the latter two was a bit surprising -- a knee injury took Tsonga out of contention after Monpellier while a nagging wrist fracture derailed what should have been a strong 2010 for the Russian and dropped him out of the top twenty for the first time in almost six years.

A promising run for Tsonga ended Friday when Federer took their semifinal match in less than an hour and a half. But Davydenko delivered the shock of the tournament a few hours later when he took on world #1 Nadal. He capitalized on weak serving by the Spaniard and broke his opponent's serve an amazing five times. He built a 5-0 lead in the second set and, though he allowed an ailing Rafa to get one break back and four more chances to even the set in the ninth game, the Russian eventually closed out the match in under ninety minutes.

It was the second straight time Davydenko had beaten Nadal in Doha -- they played the finals here last year -- and the third win in a row he's notched against the Spaniard. To successfully defend his title, of course, he still has to battle through a renewed Roger, though he's pulled off the one-two punch of beating both champions before -- and if he's healthy, he could very well do it again.

But whatever the result tomorrow, Nikolay has certainly put himself back on the radar for the Australian Open, which kicks off in just over a week. Ranked well below his ability, he could be in a position to pull off quite a few upsets and wreak havoc with the draw.

And I don't think anyone will be comfortable with Nikolay Davydenko in his path.

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