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Clash of the Titans: David Nalbandian vs. Roger Federer, Part 2

Posted on February 18, 2010 by JA Allen
Nalbandian defeats Federer in Madrid

Nalbandian defeats Federer in Madrid

David Nalbandian and Roger Federer have fought each other long and hard on tennis courts around the world since their days on the junior circuit with Nalbandian usually winning those early contests.

The Argentine’s game when he plays it at his best makes him almost unbeatable.  Early on in his career Nalbandian was a superior player to Federer who often could not control his emotions, losing his way in a match.  The wily Argentine recognized this fact and took full advantage.

Once they turned pro, Nalbandian won their first five matches.  It wasn’t until they met at the year-end 2003 Tennis Master’s Cup in Houston in round robin play that Federer was finally able to defeat Nalbandian 6-3, 6-0.   Even so Nalbandian finished 2003 in the top 10 for the first time in his career.

Even as Federer began his remarkable winning span from 2004-2007, Nalbandian continued to rise up periodically and remind the Swiss of his roots, back in the days when Federer could be flummoxed by the consistent play and tenacious returns that the Argentine was capable of  delivering.

Nalbandian loved to remind Federer that he could exert his will and still beat the World No. 1.

In 2005 when Federer was attempting to equal John McEnroe’s 1984 win-loss record, Nalbandian met him in the finals of the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai and defeated Federer in one of the greatest finals ever at that event 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6.

Nalbandian defeats Federer in 5 grueling sets.

Nalbandian defeats Federer in 5 grueling sets.

Federer won the first two sets in tiebreaks; but Nalbandian fought back, forcing a fifth set.  The Argentine secured his win by outplaying Federer in the the final set tiebreak, forever ending Federer’s hope of equaling McEnroe’s 1984 win-loss record of 82-3 in one season –– the Swiss ended the year at 81-4.

In 2007 Nalbandian scored back to back wins over Federer at ATP Masters Series events in Madrid and in Paris, which did not sit well with the Swiss maestro.  On his way to victory, Nalbandian not only beat Federer but also defeated Rafael Nadal.  That especially pleased the Argentine and his fans.

Overall Federer leads in their head to head 10 to 8.  The last time they played was in the final at the tournament in Basel in 2008 which the Swiss won, playing an almost flawless match against his nemesis at Federer’s home town tournament.

So it is that this week David Nalbandian, the man who often drove Roger Federer to distraction throughout his tennis career, returned to the world stage playing tennis at the Copa Telmex in Buenos Aires.

The Argentine won his first match in 9 months defeating Italian Potito Starace in straight sets over two days.  The match, rained out in day one, finished Tuesday with Nalbandian winning 6-2, 7-6.

He followed that up by defeating David Gimeno-Traver from Spain 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 on Wednesday.  He will meet Albert Montanes of Spain in the quarterfinals.

Nalbandian, now ranked No. 140 in the world, is once again on court battling to get back into playing shape after leaving the tour in May of 2009 for hip surgery.   The Argentine returned to participate briefly in exhibitions in December and subsequently suffered an abdominal injury during training which slowed his rehabilitation and caused him to miss play altogether at the 2010 Australian Open.

This week marks his official return to action.  Nalbandian traditionally competes in the South American Clay Court swing.  He won the Copa Telmex in 2008.  But the 28-year-old admits that clay is not the best surface for his return because of its reliance on long rallies requiring sustained stamina.

In Buenos Aires he is hoping for a couple of matches to test his endurance followed by action in Acapulco the following week to strengthen his ragged game before American hard courts and the European clay court season get underway.  His ultimate goal is to be ready to compete fully at the French Open.

Nalbandian celebrates his Davis Cup victory over Spain's Fernando Verdasco

Nalbandian celebrates his Davis Cup victory over Spain's Fernando Verdasco

Nalbandian’s true love in tennis is Davis Cup play and he hopes to be able to compete in the upcoming tie with Sweden March 5th through 7th in Stockholm.  The Argentine has a 27-9 career Davis Cup record (17-4 in singles) in 16 ties.  He promises to be on hand even if he must attend in a wheel-chair.

Known as one of the cleanest ball-strikers in the game, Nalbandian uses his all around game and especially his powerful groundstrokes to keep his opponents pinned along the baseline as he takes the ball early and hits it deep with disguised angles and deceptive net play.

He is intelligent and anticipates well.  Moreover, his two-handed backhand down the line is almost without equal.  His highest ranking was No. 3 in the world which he reached in March of 2006.

The problem for Nalbandian has never been his prowess on the court but rather his dedication to the sport.  Often he appeared overweight and definitely out of shape, competing with what can best be described as passing interest.

He doesn’t look like a tennis player –– but looks can be deceiving. Contributing to this overall portrait are the numerous injuries the Argentine has suffered throughout his career.

When Nalbandian emerged early in his career, his game was fairly-well perfected.  He won early and enjoyed success.  Playing the game was easy for him and he knew how to win.  He never had to work as hard or practice as diligently as many on tour, which was a blessing early on but a detriment later in his career.

While Federer had to fight his way through to learn how to win –– how to control his emotions and re-direct his demons, Nalbandian seemingly had mastered his doubts and won coming out of the gate.

Now at age 28, coming back from an extended leave, Nalbandian has his work cut out for him to make it back into the upper echelons of the men’s rankings.   His ambition is to come back into the top 25 where he will be seeded at major tournaments.

Nalbandian is off to a great start winning his first two matches in Buenos Aires.  Time will tell whether we will see anymore great matches featuring Federer and Nalbandian.  Hopefully, for the good of the game, these two champions will live to fight many more incredible battles against each other on the tennis court.

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