Roger Federer steered a shopping cart full of tennis balls onto court during a pre-tournament lesson he gave local juniors in Doha. Reprising his role as teaching pro today, the defending champion conducted a clinic in outclassing Nikolay Davydenko, 6-2, 6-2, to earn his 18th consecutive victory.
The match marked the third straight season the pair squared off at the Khalifa Tennis Complex. Federer swept Davydenko in last January’s final, a year after the Russian surprised Federer in the semifinals.
Bouncing on his toes behind the baseline, Federer was quick off the mark, served very effectively and attacked relentlessly behind his forehand. On a cool night that saw supporters bundled up in coats, Federer needed no feeling out period in winning eight of the first 10 games to put substantial distance between himself and Davydenko.
When Federer unloaded his forehand slathered with top- and side-spin, the ball sped away from Davydenko, leaving the former world No. 3 looking frazzled. The second-seeded Swiss broke at love to open the match and the onslaught was underway. Federer served 90 percent and cracked 10 winners compared to one for Davydenko, and raced through the first set in 22 minutes.
Now 30, Davydenko can still strike immaculate shots when he has time to set up. But timing is essential to the slender shotmaker, who has won at least one title for nine straight years. Davydenko is at his best when he’s planted on top of the baseline taking the ball on the rise (see his semifinal win over Rafael Nadal in the 2011 Doha semis to see how dangerous Davydenko can be), but Federer rushed him right off the court, playing crisp combinations that kept the Russian on the defensive.
Competing with resignation rather than resistance, Davdyenko, who had dropped 15 of his prior 17 matches vs. the 16-time Grand Slam champ, looked like a man who had seen this story play out before and was aware it wouldn't end well. On the rare instances when Davydenko took the offensive, Federer often delivered an authoritative answer—like when he stabbed a full stretch backhand from well behind the baseline, and recovered quickly to counter a Davydenko smash with a backhand at the retreating Russian's feet. It forced a forehand into net as Federer broke for a 4-1 second-set lead. Davydenko saved a match point and held for 2-5 before Federer, who dotted the corners of the box with his serve, sealed a 54-minute thrashing with successive serve winners.
"[It] was tough a combination of me playing really well and maybe Nikolay not at his best early on," Federer told Barry Cowan afterward. "I played aggressively, I served well and I thought I had good movement and that's a bit of a surprise early in the season."
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whom Federer beat in successive finals in Paris and London last fall, looms as a potential semifinal foe.