He may not like the color or condition of the Madrid courts, but it doesn’t seem that Rafael Nadal is going to have too many problems playing on them, judging by today’s 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Nikolay Davydenko.
New father Davydenko is no longer the player he was for so many years, never having quite attained his previous heights after the broken wrist he suffered in 2010, and now sits outside the Top 50, but he had still won his previous four matches against Nadal coming into today’s encounter. Not one of those matches was on clay, however, and even at his best, Davydenko never beat Nadal on that surface.
Davydenko was far from his best today. Of the two, he struggled more with his footing and uncertain bounces on the court, and while his super-aggressive style has worked against Nadal in the past, he could not execute with the required precision. Opening up the court with his backhand backfired frequently, as Nadal read such plays well, and kept punishing him with his forehand up the line. And although Davydenko did have some success coming to net, especially in the second set, anything less than a perfect approach did not going to work, and the veteran’s forehand was simply not working well enough to produce those consistently.
Signs of tentativeness from Nadal in the very early stages allowed Davydenko to hold his first service game and press the Spaniard to deuce in the following one, but serving at 1-1, the Russian missed badly on two attempts to strike early with his off-forehand from the center of the court (something Ferrer did so well in the Barcelona final). He then gave up his first of five double faults to be broken at 15, and from that point on it was a thoroughly one-sided affair.
One of the things about Nadal that can leave one shaking one’s head in bemused admiration is the way that he responds to perceived adverse conditions, often by turning them to his advantage. He played first-strike, quick-point tennis today, tethered by some of his best serving—he hit six aces and made 70 percent of first serves for the match.
Although Nadal won points off his movement when he had to, he kept the points short and pounced on any opportunity to attack, hitting an aggressive return to break Davydenko in the first game of the second set, and never letting that advantage slip. He looked, in fact, as if he could be playing at Wimbledon, ending the match after an hour and 20 minutes with his 19th winner. It was a smart way to play on a surface he clearly mistrusted and, although Davydenko was generally poor, Nadal got his feet under him ominously quickly. He will face Fernando Verdasco next in his quest to regain the Madrid title.