I read the news about Davydenko’s retirement a few days ago. My first reaction was to open Youtube to search for his match against Nadal at Rome 2007. What a match it was. If I recall correctly, Davydenko took Nadal more than 3 hours in that intense semi final. Nadal beat him that day but Davydenko returned the favor by denying Rafa of two Masters titles that the Spaniard has never won in the past — Shanghai (in 2011) and Miami (in 2008.)
Davydenko is a no-nonsense player. He’s solid on both wings and does not make many mistakes in general play. Davydenko can definitely move around the court to dictate the points. His only but fatal weakness is his inability to finish the point. His forehand and backhand are strong but not deadly enough to kill off his opponents. His volley is ordinary and so is his serve. Davydenko does not possess a real weapon in his arsenal and that explains his failure of reaching a Grand Slam final, let alone winning one.
But I still remember Davydenko for one reason: he knows how to beat Nadal, especially on a hard court. I still don’t know exactly how Davydenko did it against Rafa so many times. Perhaps he dealt with spin well, or he just avoided making unforced errors. Anyway, Nadal has always struggled against Davydenko in all surfaces. Maybe this is similar to the case of David Ferrer. Ferrer also beat Nadal several times on hard court, including a few in Grand Slams. Again you can add another defensive player into the list, Andy Murray. After all, the best explanation for Nadal’s struggle against Davydenko (and other defensive guys) is the reduced effect of spinning on a hard court. It never happens on a clay court, such as Philippe Chatrier, for sure.
Back to Davydenko, I’m happy that he won the ATP World Tour Finals in 2009. His career, in many ways, is similar to David Nalbandian’s although you can argue that the Argentine is far more talented. Nonetheless, in terms of results and trophies, Davydenko and Nalbandian are comparable. They also have one more thing in common. They played in an incredibly strong era of men’s tennis. In this era, Davydenko was never expected to beat Federer, Nadal or Djokovic to win a Grand Slam. It’s asking too much of him.
Let’s enjoy perhaps the most glorious moment in his career.