When he stepped to the line to serve at 4-3 in the second set against Richard Gasquet today, Nikolay Davydenko had not been broken in Doha all week. He’d held 43 consecutive times. Two more and he would have his 22nd career title. He didn’t hold.
To that point, a Davydenko win had looked like a foregone conclusion. As he had the previous day
in his demolition of top seed David Ferrer, the Russian had controlled the action against Gasquet. He had broken in the second game of the match, taken a 3-0 lead, and with little trouble had held out for the set, 6-3. Davydenko was standing on top of the baseline and punishing Gasquet with his customary lasers to the corners. After all of that offense, the Russian had closed the set with a sparkling bit of defense. Facing a break point at 5-3, Davydenko tracked down a brilliant Gasquet forehand and shot back a surprisingly hard slice that handcuffed him.
As for the Frenchman, after an early flurry of promising play at the net, he had been unable to fight his away anywhere near the baseline during most rallies. He settled for heavy topspin from deep in the court, and when he did have an opportunity, he became even more passive. Gasquet earned a break point in the second game of the second set, only to step back and let Davydenko connect on an easy forehand winner. When Davydenko held, and then broke Gasquet at 2-2 on an ill-advised serve and volley foray from the Frenchman, this one looked done and dusted.
It looked even more so one game later, when Davydenko earned two break points for a chance to go up 5-2 and serve for the title. This is when Davydenko, after being so dominant all week, finally lost that laser-like accuracy. He hit a backhand long on one breaker, and an easy forehand into the net on the next. Gasquet escaped and, in the next game, broke serve for the first time to level the set at 4-4.
Gasquet and his coach, Riccardo Piatti, had talked this week about his improved fitness, and that’s a big part of what won him this match. Yes, he spent much of his time deep in the court, but he eventually made that tactic, such as it was, work for him. He improved the depth and height on his shots as the match progressed, and watched as Davydenko imploded with 21 unforced errors in the second set, and 57 for the day.
If the body is willing, the mind will often follow, and that’s the way it was for Gasquet, who was grittier than normal this week. At 4-4, 30-30 in the second set, he hit a an ace and a forehand winner to hold. He served well in taking the second-set tiebreaker and closed it with a confident smash. He managed to keep his head after Davydenko took a nine-minute injury timeout at the start of the third set after tweaking his hip. And he did what Davydenko couldn’t do in the second set, secure an insurance break, with a dynamic scrambling pass. After a nervous hiccup trying to serve it out at 5-2, Gasquet secured the win after one last backhand error from Davydenko, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
A winding, tiring, and ultimately surprising Doha final ended with Gasquet’s eighth title, rather than Davydenko’s 22nd. Both will be players to watch in Melbourne.