David Nalbandian – one of the most talented tennis players I have seen in my 20 years of tennis watching. In my opinion, Nalbandian easily slots into the description of a “genius”. One of the most essential qualities of a genius are how easy he/she can make something appear. Nalbandian did that on a very consistent basis. On his day, he could make tennis look easier than lying on the beach on a cool pleasant day.
I have been a fan of Nalbandian ever since I first took serious note of his talent during the summer hard-court tournaments in 2003. Nalbandian defeated among others, Roger Federer [at Cincinnati] and made it to the semifinal of the US Open against eventual winner Andy Roddick. That semi-final match is a microcosm of Nalbandian’s career [everything except the kicking incident that is]. Nalbandian was leading 2 sets to none and had match-points in that match but was upended by Andy Roddick, who eventually went on to win the title.
Through the years Nalbandian had the tennis audience intrigued with his great natural talent but inability to fully utilize it. In that sense, he was a poor man’s Roger Federer, but also a rich man’s Richard Gasquet. His double-handed backhand is one of the most free-flowing tennis shots that one will find on a tennis court. One of the finest Nalbandian moments, if not the finest has to be his absolute domination of the top players during his Madrid and Paris titles during the Indoor season in 2007.
During this double-title run, he was at his absolute best defeating both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, not once but twice. His prized scalps during this impressive feat included Juan Martin Delpotro, Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic, [see clip below] Carlos Moya, David Ferrer, Richard Gasquet. Just reading the names of these immensely gifted athletes and tennis players makes a sports fan’s jaw drop in awe. Imagine the tennis talent it takes to brush aside such a great line up.
Let me re-iterate the list of players conquered by David Nalbandian during those two magical tournaments. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal [twice each], Juan Martin Delpotro, Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic, [see clip below] Carlos Moya, David Ferrer, Richard Gasquet. Daveed, as he had requested commentators to pronounce his name, brushed aside many of these opponents in straight sets. He was ruthless against many of these players – a lot of them ranked No.1 players or slam-winners [Federer, Moya, Nadal] or would be slam-winners or would be No.1 ranked players [Djokovic, Delpotro, Nadal]. He targeted Nadal for special treatment. He humbled the Bull from Mallorca, like an expert Matador, in Nadal’s home town 6-1 and 6-2. When the scene shifted to the city where Rafael Nadal has tasted the sweetest success, Paris, Nalbandian continued in the same vein. 6-4 and 6-0.
He was in similar “no-mercy-Kill-Bill” mode against Delpotro and Gasquet. 6-2 6-4. Federer, like the Wizard that he is, made Nalbandian look like a hobbit for the 1st set in Madrid winning it 6-1. After that, however, Nalby [as fans affectionately call him] proceeded to win 4 straight sets against the then No.1. Nalbandian was in the ZONE during that 2 weeks. He was like a Zen Master in the ZONE that even the majority of professional athletes can only dream for. Nalbandian existed in that zone for 2 weeks and enthralled tennis fans all over the world.
Any discussion of Nalbandian would be incomplete without his immense contribution to the Argentinian Davis Cup team. He was a Davis Cup stalwart and his Davis Cup record was a mixed bag. Even in his worst Davis cup moment, the 2008 Final, he won his sole singles match quite comfortably beating Ferrer 3, 2 and 3. such was the genius of the man. Every time he entered that zone, he cast a spell on the audience like only a few blessed athletes can. Such magical spells will be what tennis fans, who have watched Nalbandian play, will remember when they think about Nalbandian.
Muchas Gracias Senor Nalbandian. Thank you for all the memories over the last 10 years, Senor!