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Nikolay Davydenko: “Rafael Nadal was like any other player”

He doesn’t usually give many interviews, maybe that’s why it’s so interesting to tune up your ears when you sit quietly with a medium like CLAY to rescue some of the battles of the past. We are talking about the great Nikolay Davydenko, absolute reference of Russian tennis and one of the best tennis players we could see in the past decade. He now lives relaxed, away from the spotlight and focused on his family, but if they squeeze him with his times, he catches on quickly. Listening to him talk about his career is something that we had to bring you at Punto de Break.

Back to training?

“I did a few weeks with Karen Khachanov a couple of years ago, she asked me if I wanted to travel full time for a while, but I have a family and three kids so I can’t. Right now I don’t think about it, I already did it as a player, if I didn’t have a family I would think about it, why not. My children are still 10 years away from growing up, so I have time to change my mind. Who knows what could happen.”

Comparison between eras

“I stopped watching tennis for a while, but then I started commenting on Eurosport the matches of Russian tennis players in the Grand Slam and now I feel it closer. Technically, I don’t think tennis has progressed much, the young players of this time I think are not better than those of my time. That surprises me. Physically they are better, they serve better and hit harder, but Nadal and Djokovic are still there to control that power, they are the ones who continue to win Grand Slams and beat people ten years younger, which is incredible. I don’t see the #NextGen playing amazing tennis.”

His experience against the Big3

“For me, playing against Nadal was like playing against any other opponent. I beat him in all our matches on hard courts and he beat me all on clay, that’s why he keeps winning Roland Garros. There were many games that I remember fondly, the Miami final of course. I also remember beating him in the Shanghai final and Djokovic in the semi-finals. Beating Federer in the semi-finals of the ATP Fines was also something incredible. I’m the type of person who remembers those games a lot, the one with Coria in the fourth round of Roland Garros, I don’t forget that one either”.

H2H favorable ante Nadal

“My game matched well with Rafa’s on hard courts, so I didn’t have so many problems with him. On the other hand, I could never beat James Blake in those conditions, he hit very hard and finished the points in few shots. Against clay specialists, Spanish and Argentine, they were the easiest matches for me on cement, because they play long points and with a lot of spin. It was more difficult against the Americans, who hit hard and flat, they wanted short points. Federer was my toughest opponent, his forehand was extremely fast and I took it very accurately from him, I wasn’t able to control it”.

The ordeal against Federer

“I had many opportunities to beat him, but he was always better than me in the important moments of each set. I had set points, tiebreaks, but I always lost. In London that year it was not like that, there I felt that it was time to beat him, although I had some luck. My mindset changed after that, suddenly I easily beat him in our next match in Doha. I just saw that I could already beat him, but it’s no secret that I had a mental problem to face Roger for many years.

What game would you change in your career?

“2005 Roland Garros semi-finals, against Mariano Puerta. He was up 4-2 in the fifth set, but I was dying on the court. My coach told me that he should have missed physio to give me time to recover for a few minutes, maybe he should have. It’s probably the biggest loss of my career. From 4-2 onwards I couldn’t put the ball on the court anymore, I was so tired that I lost 6-4. I would change that match, should have been smarter, stupid mistake. That was my only real chance to be in a Slam final.”

Rejection of the sponsors

“I was top3, top5 for five years, but it was difficult to find sponsors because I am Russian. At that time there was no social media, everyone knew who I was, but I didn’t feel like there were many fans around me to be honest. I always played on Court 1 or Court 2 at the Grand Slams, other players were in Central from the beginning, but it suited me. I didn’t want to play on the main courts in those tournaments, I felt more pressure, I liked that there were fewer people in the stands. My relationship with the sponsors was shit, I remember that Nike told me: ‘We have Federer who is No. 1, let’s see when you are’. If I had been American I would have had a contract with Nike, if I had been German I would have gone with Adidas. My only good contract was with Prince and it lasted 3-4 years.

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