As the Shanghai Rolex Masters staggers along this week despite inclement weather and poor attendance, (which is its own article for another time) probably the biggest story and upset so far occurred yesterday when defending champion Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko lost in the second round to qualifier Misha Zverev 4-6, 6-7. Davydenko, who rode last year’s title run all the way into winning the 2009 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, is now facing the very real prospect of dropping out of the top 25 at the end of the year as he has no chance now of making it to London this year.
Despite many tipping “Kolya” to have a breakout 2010 season, this year’s results for the Russian could almost be described as a nightmare including a prolonged wrist injury that kept him out of action for most of the spring and rather lackluster results in the Grand Slams. Now at age 29, 2011 could prove to be a final chance for the Russian to claim another shot at glory.
Davydenko’s victories last year in Shanghai against Rafael Nadal in the finals and then in London where he defeated Juan Martin Del Potro in the penultimate match had many fans singing the Russian’s praises partly due to Davydenko’s long time presence on the tour without earning a Slam title despite reaching the semifinals several times. Davydenko’s victories, along with being some of the biggest of the Russian’s career, also turned him into a new fan favorite as increased media exposure gave many a chance to enjoy the Russian’s dry humor. Who could forget his now classic quip about Maria Sharapova’s deal with Prince racquets, a company Davydenko soon left for a better deal with rival Dunlop. Also, seeing the veteran Davydenko take out Nadal, Roger Federer, and Del Potro, when many didn’t think he had the game to do so, added a whole new dimension to the ATP top ten and a new threat for Federer and Nadal to encounter as they chased after the elusive title of “GOAT” while competing in the Slams.
But alas, 2010 brought Davydenko back down from the rare air he briefly inhaled last year. Davydenko’s results this year have put him back in the trenches so to speak for next year and the odds he can somehow climb back into the top ten, though not impossible, don’t look good. Even though in a recent interview Davydenko spoke of trying to put this year’s setbacks behind him, the prevailing view is that his brief chance of possibly capturing a Slam is gone. With Davydenko’s setbacks and Del Potro’s own continuing struggle to regain his form from ’09, the tour is back to having the familiar, if somewhat redundant, quartet of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray remain as de facto contenders for Slams and other major titles.
But probably the most important thing Davydenko and other veterans like himself (i.e. Ivan Ljubicic’s title run at Indian Wells this year is another) is the sense that after years of toiling in obscurity to a certain extent that they are still capable of breakthrough wins and that anyone on the tour is capable of winning a major title at the right time. If Davydenko can pull off another run is up to him, but the tour needs players like him and the moments they provide to generate surprise and increased interest in the sport.
Which is why I say onwards “Kolya”. This year’s Shanghai may have been a bust but we all remember the magic from last year and we certainly hope you can provide another shot of adrenaline to the tour, one more time.