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Rafa v. Kolya: Preview 04/05/2008 - 6:03 PM

The women's final, full of odd twists and turns and failed attempts to take control (or were those attempts to lose control?) of the match, is over. Jelena Jankovic, the darling of women's tennis, is still smiling and laughing. Serena Williams, the Queen of Miami, is buying a new case for her latest trophy. Mr. Bodo will tell you what it all means in his blog; meanwhile, I'll walk us over to the men's final, which begins, weather permitting, at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow (the forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms).

It was almost a year ago that Nikolay Davydenko, the most anonymous top five player in tennis, became an international sensation--scandal, or more precisely, the whiff of scandal, can do that to you. By the end of last year, about the only thing Davydenko could do well was double fault (so well that it once earned him a warning for lack of best effort). At the Masters Cup in Shanghai, the man looked beat.Davydenko

The longer the ATP's investigation into that match in Sopot, Poland, where Davydenko retired against underdog Martin Vassallo Arguello as online gamblers bet millions against him, the easier it is to have sympathy for the man, whose name has been sullied by association despite no specific allegations against him. As it turns out, though, sympathy isn't necessary. Davydenko is in a downright wonderful mood in Miami.

"It's like starting from zero, really," he said. "I waiting for the end of the year, you know, because one month with no press, nobody write about you, and like, you feeling so happy."

Davydenko has never beaten Rafael Nadal, but he's played him tough in their two matches, one on clay in Rome and one indoors in China two years ago. Both matches went three sets. Here are five keys to the match.

1. Davydenko's racquet. He's only got one stick in his bag, or at least one stick with 18 strings (his back-up racquets are older models). I've had various conversations about racquet technology with scientists both inside and outside the industry, and I tend to think that players, professional or otherwise, exaggerate what a different racquet can do for their games. It seems that as much of the improvement (or in some cases, perceived improvement) is in the mind, and when one's mind is confident and remains quiet during a tennis match, one invariably plays better tennis. Does Davydenko need this new racquet to win this match? No--and also yes. "No" because I'm certain that Davydenko could hit the ball just as well with one of his old racquets (if you watched him push Roger Federer to four sets at the Australian Open in 2006, including two tiebreaks, you'd have to agree--Kolya can hit the ball). "Yes" because it seems that Davydenko himself believes the racquet has helped him tremendously this week. If he believes it, it's true--even if it isn't. Got that?

2. The serve. Is Nadal's serve better than it once was? Is it the same? Is it worse? How's this: It's not worse and sometimes it's better. Mostly, it's the same, which is to say, decent but not terribly good. Davydenko consistently puts up some of the best return-of-serve numbers in the game and I think his style of returning is particularly well-suited to Nadal's serve. Davydenko does not excel at returning blazing serves (in the first set against Roddick, when Roddick served incredibly well, Davydenko had no chance). But when Roddick's serve lost a little steam, Davydenko corralled it and sometimes punished it (he broke Roddick three consecutive times in the third set). In short, Davydenko doesn't neutralize fantastic serves like Federer tends to do, but he pummels ordinary ones. Nadal, he of the ordinary serve, will probably find himself on the defensive on many points. Davydenko's serve is more of a mystery to me. He stunned Roddick on Friday not only with his serving consistency, but with his power (he hit one 136 mph). If he serves like that again, he'll be in great shape. Then again, he's never served like that before, so how likely is he to repeat a such a rare performance?

Nadal 3. The baseline. Yes, I'm talking about the physical line; more precisely, I'm interested in how far each player stands from it during the rally. Nadal has tried over the last few years to keep himself on the line or just behind. He's had varying degrees of success (this tournament has been, overall, a great success in this regard). Davydenko, like Andre Agassi before him, plays as if he's wearing an electric dog collar set to give him a deadly jolt if he steps more than six inches to the rear. Davydenko isn't as consistent (match to match) as Agassi was, and he doesn't compare to the former world no. 1 in terms of confidence and toughness. But he's every bit the master at hitting the ball on the rise and creating angles--with short, quick steps--that don't seem possible (he also has more foot speed and lighter feet). If Davydenko stands close and keeps his compact swings in order (does anyone else take more practice swings between points?) Nadal might find himself in retreat. The more defensive Nadal plays, the more trouble he'll have on his hands.

4. The weather. After he defeated Roddick, Davydenko spoke (with amazement and a hint of fear) about Nadal's fitness and physical presence--not only his strength, but his seemingly endless reserve of energy. "I remember against him in Rome I played three sets three hours, and I was completely dead. He was also tired, but in last points, you know, last game, I don't know how he find, you know, his power." No doubt Nadal will have plenty of energy for this match, but at least Davydenko won’t have to contend with the sun. The forecast calls for clouds and thundershowers, so Davydenko might even get a few prolonged breaks.

5. New rules. This is the first year that this tournament will have a best-of-three-set final. I wouldn't give Davydenko much chance to beat Nadal in three out of five sets. In a shorter match, though, anything can happen.


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Posted by 04/06/2008 at 04:40 PM

Finally I have something to be happy about. The so-called no 1 Nadal to be (who has said that Federer is now no 3-4 in the world), lost to Davydenko in str8 sets, imagine? I thot he was the king of all courts now and he couldn't even pull a win. Davy outplayed and outpowered him and he was shown the way out. Federer ow has about 670 points ahead of him bcos his of his loss 2dy, he didn't pick up the remaining 150points inching him even closer to becoming no 1, in his dreams I say. Justice was served. I like Davy now for protecting Federer's interest and I wish he will grow in Tennis and surpass the loud mothed Djokovic. Well, the clay season is here, Nadal hasn't won anything this year, so does our Roger, but I bet u that Roger is geared up for the clay season and French Open will be his this time and Nadla, the supposedly king of clay will finally be dethroned. We will see. See you at Estoril Roger. Play ur best and win ur first tournament of the year and run with it. Good luck to u cos u will need it in abundance.

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