Dubai: Federer d. Davydenko

by: Peter Bodo | February 28, 2013

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If you didn’t know better, you might have thought that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, while rolling toward a potential clash in the final, were engaging a battle of one-upmanship today in Dubai.

Djokovic needed just 1:05 to dismiss Andreas Seppi, his quarterfinal opponent today, after which Federer applied a similar beating on Nikolay Davydenko, winning in just 54 minutes, 6-2, 6-2.

I can imagine Federer sticking his tongue out at Djokovic back in the locker room: Nah nah, nah nah nah, I was quicker!

With Djokovic then shooting back: Yeah, I won 89 percent of my first serve points, to your 84 percent—and Davydenko got two more games off you.

Federer: Aw, go sit in your egg, I’ll see you on Sunday!

We all know the scary numbers demonstrating how dominant tennis’ Big Four are in Grand Slam and Masters events. But those guys aren’t too shabby in the ATP 500s and 250s, either. Just ask Davydenko, or Seppi.

Federer’s win may not have been very dramatic, but it was extremely entertaining—and you have to give Davydenko a good deal of the credit for that. It takes two to put on a dazzling demonstration of warp-speed shotmaking, and the diminutive Russian was up to the job. But there’s nothing new in that. Davydenko plays tennis as if were ice hockey, darting around the arena, firing flat, bullet-like forehands and backhands like they were slapshots.

Were it anyone but Federer across the net from Davydenko today, the outcome might very well have been different; it certainly would have been a whole heck of a lot closer. Very few people can challenge Federer to a straightforward hitting contest, which is a piece of intelligence embraced by nearly everyone other than his three main rivals—and Davydenko. Let no one suggest the 5'10", 31-year-old native of the Ukraine is anything less than game, although you have to wonder about a guy who doesn’t just fall on his sword, but leaps on it with gusto.

Davydenko’s main problems when it comes to Federer is that the Swiss star is equally quick, but he’s significantly bigger and rangier, and—more important—blessed with basic power and versatility that he lacks. In fact, a match like this demonstrates not just the superiority of Federer, but also some of the subtle but germane shortcomings of Davydenko.

If Davydenko were a car, he’d have one forward gear—fast. Thus, he’s unable (or unwilling) to alter the pace and/or tone of a match. If Davydenko were a tool, he’d be a hammer—good for just one task, unlike, say, a good pair of pliers. He just doesn’t have the kind of versatility that can come in handy when you need to sabotage and blunt another man’s game.

The greatest danger Federer faces when he plays Davydenko comes from himself. Should he feel sluggish and fail to keep up with the spirited pace Davydenko insists upon, or be unable to make those shots that Federer has an 80 or 90 percent probability of hitting true in most of his matches, he will find himself in trouble.

Today wasn’t one of those days; they still are few and far between.

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