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The Rediff Interview/Nikolay Davydenko

'Beating Nadal was my best moment'

November 14, 2008

Nikolay Davydenko

He has 14 ATP Tour titles, a Davis Cup miniature and a top-10 ranking to his credit.

But the first thing that comes to mind when his name is mentioned is the 'betting episode'. The 27-year-old came under the scanner after he forfeited a match in Sopot, Poland, last year -- against unknown Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello -- a match which attracted huge bets. Further controversies followed, but the end was, thankfully, a happy one.

Cleared by the ATP in September, he might not feel totally exonerated by the probe, but has definitely not let the trials and tribulations affect his pro career -- three titles this year corroborate the fact.

The episode now firmly behind him, world No 5 Nikolay Davydenko tells Special Correspondent Bikash Mohapatra he is looking forward to returning to the Chennai Open early next year and playing in the tournament, where he had kick-started his ATP career eight years back.


Do you remember your visit to Chennai in 2001?

I had played my first ATP Tour match in 2001 with Chennai Open; the beginning of my career story which has so far had many ups and downs. I played my first match with Byron Black and lost.

Chennai Open has been a great tournament for me. It's amongst the top in the circuit today. I am going to be back after eight years in India and will keep my mind calm and focus on the game and hope to win the tournament and have a great start for the year ahead.

You made your Grand Slam debut shortly after�

Yes, post the Chennai Open in 2001, I participated in the first Grand Slam of my career at the Australian Open [Images], where I made it to the second round before losing to former world No. 1 Patrick Rafter in four sets.

That performance gave me an insight of my talent and ability to play tennis. Post my injury in February that year, I came back to win two Challenger titles in Ulm (Germany [Images]) and Istanbul. I finished the season with a quarter-final in Basel [lost to Carlos Moya [Images]].

Seven years, 14 titles. How do you asses your career thus far?

Well, to speak frankly, it has been a great journey so far. My career has had its ups and downs. There were many close matches that I could have converted into victories but somehow things didn't work out according to plan. I have no regrets though.

I have, in all, won 14 titles and this year has particularly been very good with three titles under my belt. 

What, according to you, are your strengths as a player?

I have an aggressive baseline game and like to use hard, penetrating ground strokes. My ground strokes are equally strong on both forehand and backhand. I hit the ball extremely early and this is something that helps me generate immense power.

My best shot is my backhand, which I can hit down the line, cross-court or with extreme angles. I also like to take running shots, which often turn into winners for me.

Roger Federer [Images] or Rafael Nadal [Images]. Who is the more difficult opponent?

Both of them are equally competent and are great players amongst themselves.

I won my Miami [Images] Masters title beating Rafael Nadal but lost to him at the subsequent Monte Carlo Masters.

I have also played with Roger Federer and lost to him on many occasions. Both of them are excellent players and they keep complementing each other. 

Roger lost the top spot to Nadal earlier this year. How do you assess this power shift?

Every one of us goes through a tough phase in our life and I always tell my colleagues that any match could be a win; we just need to have the right focus and keep our concentration on the game.

I am sure he (Federer) will have a great year ahead of him.

You have lost 12 straight times to Roger. How frustrating is it to lose to the same player again and again?

Roger is a great player and one needs to be very consistent and win all big points when you play a champion like him. All I can say is I am trying my best to concentrate on my matches and keep my focus on. I could have converted some of those matches to a win but guess it didn't happen. Hope to keep my mind focus and have more victories against him in my name. 

N DavydenkoWith contemporary tennis being more of a bipolar world, how difficult is it to survive against the odds? And what does it take to make your presence count?

My ability to keep striving hard and remain extremely competitive has been my strength. I am also known as the machine since I play many tournaments and keep trying always. I guess that is what keeps me going.

Your career seems to be following Yevgeny Kafelnikov's footsteps -- playing in so many tournaments during a year. How do you manage to do it year after year? And how difficult is it to maintain the fitness levels?

Yes, that's true; I play in more tournaments per year than any other player. I am fit for every match and give my best for all my matches. I have a consistent style of play which is my major strength and keeps me going on as also the desire to win matches and the love for tennis.

Four major semi-finals. When is the title coming?

I have won three ATP titles and I try my best to win in every game I play. Yes, I agree that I have lost big matches after being very close to victory. I am working on this aspect of my game very hard and I hope to improve and be more consistent.

How disappointing has it been to have not won a major till date despite trying so hard? And which major do you feel you have a definite chance of winning?

All I can say is that I try my best and keep my focus on, which is my major strength, and keep my confidence high. I feel every match could be a win no matter how difficult it is. I just need to concentrate and give my best.

The Paris Masters two years back or the Miami Masters this year -- which one would you consider your biggest win so far?

I think both are equally important for me and those wins have changed me in a huge way in both professional and personal life.

During the year 2006, I won in Poertschach, Sopot and New Haven, beginning with my hardcourt winning streak. I finished the regular season by winning my second Moscow [Images] crown (after 2004) and my first ATP Masters Series tournament in Paris. It was a huge title for me as it was my first ATP Master Series shiled. The match was with Dominik Hrbaty and it was a great match and I still think about the match to motivate myself to play better and improve my ability to win more matches.

Post that match I helped Russia [Images] to win the Davis Cup against Argentina by 3�2. I also finished the year as the No 1 Russian and ranked No 3 in the world.

This year, my most memorable day was when I defeated the World No 1 Rafael Nadal in the final, 6-4, 6-2, to claim my second ATP Masters Series title. It was a huge victory to defeat a player like Nadal. I liked the fact that my efforts were appreciated considering the huge victory.

Is that win your biggest till date?

I always just talk about that one victory, my victory over Nadal (2008 Miami Masters final). That has been till date one of the best victories I have had in my life. Hope to have a few more such wins in my career.

The match-fixing allegations are now a thing of the past. How does it feel now that you have been cleared of all allegations?

Yes, it was the most difficult phase of my career. However, that phase has also made me mentally tougher and stronger.

Being fined for 'not trying hard enough'. Being asked by the umpire to 'serve like him'. How difficult was that period?

I wouldn't like to comment on it.

There have been many reported instances of betting in tennis of late. Your views on the issue?

The ATP is best equipped to make a judgment in this matter. I wouldn't like to comment on it.

With a sudden influx of players (both men and women), Russia, along with Spain, has certainly become a tennis powerhouse. Your comments?

Yeah, tennis has become very popular in Russia and you have many of them who have been competing on the big stage. Maria (Sharapova), Anna (Chakvetadze), Svetlana (Kuznetsova) are all very competitive players and have won many titles. 

You moved to Russia from Ukraine at an early age. But you also applied for German and Austrian citizenships. What was the reason behind the move?

Well I was born in Severodonetsk, Ukraine. At the age of 11, I left my parents in Ukraine and started to live with my elder brother Eduard in Volgograd (Russia) with the belief that Russia would afford more opportunities to become a professional tennis player. I stayed for four years in Russia.

Eduard, my brother and my coach, worked for kids and we practiced together. He pushed me pretty hard. At 15, we left for Germany. I was granted Russian citizenship in 1999, at the age of 18, and I have represented Russia ever since.

In 2007, I also applied for Austrian citizenship. But I currently reside in Volgograd only.

Finally, what are your short term and long term goals?

To give my best in every match and to stay focussed during my matches so that I can convert them into wins.

Photographs: Getty Images

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