Mark Weatherup

is the writer of the The Tennis Centre blog.

Davydenko forced to battle into Estoril Open Quarter finals

Nikolay Davydenko was involved in a very interesting match against Ivo Minar in the Estoril Open round of 16.

Clay court season is now upon us and there is no-one in better form than Davydenko who’s superior movement and baseline play ensures he as no trouble in adjusting to the dirt.

He got the job done here surprisingly in three sets 26 62 64 against the world number 72 and I felt that in 90 percent of the match he played well but in the other 10 percent he was a bit shaky.

In the first set he was dominated by the hard hitting and serving of Minar and only won a pathetic 5 out of 21 points when receiving. When serving the Russian number one only won 50% of points which is another very poor statistic. A very ‘off’ set.

But predictably Minar was never going to be able to keep up this domination and Davydenko raised his game and played some excellent tennis from the back of the court in the second set as he began to take control of the match.

He then breezed into a 4-1 lead in the third set, a double break of serve and it looked as if he would cruise into the next round. However Davydenko completely lost his way in the next three games, being broken twice by the plucky Minar and it was back to 4-4.

The Russian no longer had the ability to hit a first serve in the games he was broken and I think he showed a certain degree of mental weakness here when in such a commanding lead. This should not be happening to the number four player in the world.

Fortunately for Davydenko he is such a skilled player off the ground that he broke Minar in the next game and then had a much smoother service game to move in to the quarter finals.

I find it weird how he seemed to switch on and off in this match and this wasn’t a brilliant performance however a world class player has the ability to win even when not playing his or her best and Davydenko certainly used that skill here.

He appeared to have particular problems on his second serve today with only 9 out of 28 points won and also 4 double faults.

This match displayed a slight dip in form however he still played some very good shots against Minar, who kept fighting even when two breaks down and nearly came back from the most unlikely situation.

Despite this below par performance I think Davydenko could advance into the final where he will surely play Federer who has no player of any note in his half. A potential tricky semi final against Giles Simon awaits the Russian however on his current match winning form he can defeat anyone. If the ideal final takes place between the number one and two seed, Davydenko has the momentum to win his second title this year.

Blake pips Mathieu at the finishing line

Indoor Hard Court – Best of 5 sets

Philipp Kohlschrieber GER (25) – David Ferrer ESP (5)
This match will be closely contested and I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a five setter here. Both men have not been in the greatest form as of late and Kohlschrieber has a brilliant chance of using his shot making skills to cause a minor upset. The German is one of my favourite players on tour and the quick court will suit his attacking game. Ferrer will be hoping Kohlschrieber falls apart as he battles away from the back of the court. This could certainly happen as Kohlschrieber is not the most resilient player but if he is able to keep enough focus throughout the match he could trouble the rock solid defence of Ferrer.

Predicted winner :: Kohlschrieber

Indoor Hard Best of 5 sets

James Blake USA (8) – Paul Henri Mathieu FRA (12)

James Blake is a very talented player who has impressed me with his recent performances. In his last two tournaments he has gone out at the hands of Nadal but he pushed the Spaniard all the way with his attacking play. Mathieu’s form hasn’t been as eye opening but he will be a threat to the American as he is solid off both wings. Their serves are similar however Blake hits harder groundstrokes which will cause problems for Mathieu particularly on the forehand side which is where he will make a few mistakes. Having the home crowd on his side should bring out the best in Blake and he should win here but it won’t be easy.

Predicted winner :: Blake

Blake pips Mathieu at the finishing line

If this match was horse race, James Blake would have been riding into the last two furlongs ten lengths behind the impressive Paul-Henri Mathieu and punters would be counting their winnings.

But from out of nowhere the seemingly down and out horse, Blake, decides to challenge Mathieu and drives forward with his ears pricked to force a photo finish.

In dramatic scenes the photo finish reveals Blake has won by a nose and everyone is thinking how on earth did that happen.

This Davis Cup match was fantastic. It was a classic topsy turvy encounter you would have expected from Henman at Wimbledon. The court was very fast and both players were hitting their groundstrokes as hard as possible which made for a great watch.

Mathieu had looked impressive throughout the match, coming up with some unbelievable shots and never let his head drop even when going a set down and 2 sets to 1 down. It was no surprise when in the final set at four games all he broke the tiring Blake and won the chance to serve for the match.

This is never an easy game for anyone in such a close encounter but Mathieu made it look easy as he went 40-15 up giving him two match points.
Mathieu then bangs in a first serve and I am thinking game over however my tip Blake has other ideas and returns with a powerful forehand.

This point was incredible as Mathieu had a short forehand to win the game, but Blake somehow mustered up the energy to hook it back into play and eventually win the point.

Mathieu then hit another first serve on the second match point but again Blake hit the return twice as hard back at him, won the point and went on to break the Frenchman.

From then on I knew there was only going to be one winner, as mentally from having two match points on your own serve to being broken must have been devastating for Mathieu and Blake won the set 7-5.

I have never seen such a close match and people who say players are not bothered about Davis Cup because you can’t win ranking points are clearly wrong with this battle a prime example. You only had to look to the sidelines at Roddick up on his feet leading the support for Blake to see what this win meant to the Americans.

Final Score : Blake d Mathieu 76(5) 67(3) 63 36 75

My other tip Philipp Kohlschrieber won the first set against David Ferrer but then lost the next three in another below par performance. D Ferrer d P Kohlschrieber 67(3) 63 64 62

Underrated Davydenko Shows his Class

Davydenko after MiamiIt seems strange to label the world number 4 player as being underrated but this is exactly the case with Nikolay Davydenko. Davydenko displayed a level of tennis at the Sony Ericsson Open final I have not seen in a while to beat Rafael Nadal. My only question is why do we not see this type of performance on a more consistent basis?

At the start of this tournament, I was 100 percent sure nobody would have chosen Davydenko to take his first title of the year. He finally justified his ranking after many people, including myself, were wondering how and why he managed to reach a high world ranking.

It seems he is trying his best to put the betting scandal, which has cast a dark cloud over his career, firmly behind him.

I tipped Nadal to win in a three set thriller considering the Russian’s poor record against the top three players. However this was not the case as Davydenko dominated the Spaniard in all areas of the match. His serving, groundstrokes and movement were near perfect and you could have written a text book on his performance as he ran Nadal around and eventually off the court.

Davydenko is without doubt, in my opinion, the least popular player in the top 10 and this picture of him on the practice court proves he is not much of a draw for spectators compared with others near him in the rankings.

I’m sure though after winning in Miami, ‘Davy’ will hope to win over a few more fans because clearly after a showing like this he deserves them.

Davydenko practicing

Why does Davydenko not attract such as following as his other top ten associates?

One crazy theory that I have come across attempting to explain asserts that not having hair affects his popularity! This is of course is rubbish. After all, baldness did not harm Andre Agassi’s popularity.

More realistically, obviously the betting scandal did not help his case. Nonetheless, I feel the main reason for his lack of fan base is that he does not possess a big personality – especially when compared to the arrogant Andy Roddick and the entertaining Novak Djokovic.

The bottom line is that Davydenko is an extremely hard working pro and does not crave the spot light as others do. A lot of fuss is made when he loses a match he is expected to win but this happens to all players.

When a global approach is taken in assessing Davydenko, it becomes apparent he is not the fourth best player in the world for nothing.

This is why I will certainly be taking more notice of this gifted player in the future.

(photos Matt Whitfield for Tennis Served Fresh)