leg injury

Jump On The Nalbandwagon

Anyone else ready to jump on the Nalbandwagon?

While I can’t claim that nifty term as my own, I have no doubt that many tennis fans and members of the media will be starting to mention Nalbandian’s name as a real threat as the U.S. Open approaches. The Argentine is sure to be on many people’s list of darkhorse candidates. Giving Nalbandian the underdog tag however, is not doing him any justice. The reasons for his fall in the rankings has nothing to do with a lack of talent or work ethic.

Few players have had to endure the injury troubles that Nalbandian has faced in the past couple of seasons. I’d put him up there with Tommy Haas in terms of veteran players with tons of skill and little luck. Having reached the finals of Wimbledon in 2002, Nalbandian is one of only a few players who have made the semis of every other Grand Slam as well. (U.S. Open in ’03, Australian Open in ’06 and the French Open in ’04 and ’06.)

Nalbandian’s injury troubles began in May of 2009 when he was sidelined for the rest of the ATP season after undergoing hip surgery. When he came back for the start of the 2010 season, an abdominal injury sustained during practice delayed his return until February. He managed to squeeze in two months of play before a right leg injury derailed his progress shortly before Wimbledon. Nalbandian was seemingly unable to remain healthy.

A month ago he made his return to the tour and since that time has been absolutely on fire, winning 11 matches in a row including his victory this morning in Toronto over 5th seed Robin Soderling, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. No wonder he seems so uncharacteristically cheerful in his press conferences this week. I feel like Nalbandian’s biggest surprise in his comeback so far has been his noticeable attitude adjustment rather than the crisp ball-striking that I figured would surely return to him.

“I’ve been a long time out of the circuit, and I’m really enjoying this time now,” Nalbandian revealed after the match. Talk about an understatement!

He went on to say that the injuries, “…made me think about that and get more motivation to come, to play, to enjoy it, and work on my last few years on the tour.”

Nalbandian’s impressive winning streak began with a 3-2 Davis Cup quarter-final victory by Argentina versus Russia in July. He was instrumental in that win by knocking off both Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets.

He followed up that impressive display by marching right through the draw at the Legg Mason Classic in Washington, D.C. His path of destruction left top-thirty level guys like Wawrinka, Cilic, Simon and finally Baghdatis in its wake.

Toronto has provided players like Nalbandian with an excellent platform towards recovery in the past. Two years ago it was Nicolas Kiefer of Germany who reclaimed his game by marching all the way to the finals where he lost to Rafa Nadal. While Nalbandian came into the tournament with a good number of wins under his belt, this is a Masters 1000 tourney with a much tougher crowd to face.

The journey for Nalbandian will only get more difficult each day he stays alive in Toronto. Next up is either world number four, Andy Murray or Gael Monfils. Once again Nalbandian will be labeled the underdog, but other players should beware if they treat him that way or they might be joining Robin Soderling with an early visit to Cincinnati.

AROUND THE CORNER: MEN READY FOR BATTLE IN INDIAN WELLS

Alright everybody it’s time again for some tennis that really matters at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Both the ATP and WTA Tour’s are in the house and that should make for a great week of coverage for our sport. This has always been a terrific event and it set the record for attendance outside of a Grand Slam event in 2008 with over 300,000 spectators during a twelve day period.

Let’s have a look at the men’s draw and see how things shape up.

Roger Federer is back on the scene for the first time since his Australian Open title at the end of January. The world number one has just overcome an apparent lung infection and coupled with his recent inactivity I don’t think we should expect all that much from him. Yes, he will likely make it deep into the draw, but I would be surprised if Roger made it past the semi-finals here this year. Roger gets a first round bye as do all thirty-two seeded players in the tournament. His first capable opponent could be Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.

Also in the top-half of the draw are the two Andy’s – 4th seeded Murray and 7th seeded Roddick. Murray tanked in Dubai in his only appearance since losing in the finals of the Aussie Open to Federer, while Roddick has played a fairly heavy schedule on the hard-courts of North America.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also lurks in the top-half while David Nalbandian seems ready to return to tournament play. Coming back in February after nine months away from the game due to hip surgery, Nalbandian withdrew before his third round match in Buenos Aires with a leg injury. The talented Nalbandian played the role of hero this past week in Davis Cup play as he closed out a victory over Sweden with a four set win over Andreas Vinciguerra. If he can stay healthy for an extended period, look for Nalbandian to quickly return to his typical top-twenty form.

The bottom-half of the draw contains 2nd seeded Novak Djokovic who recently defended his title in Dubai and seems poised for a bigger result here on the Masters Series stage. Right behind him is 3rd seed, Rafael Nadal, who returns to the tour after a recurring knee injury forced him to withdraw in Australia where he trailed Andy Murray in the quarter-finals. Expectations are low for Nadal as he has been away from the game for over a month and let’s just hope he can finish the tournament on his own terms. Defending his title in India Wells from 2009 is simply not going to happen.

Playing on fire so far this year and also in the bottom section is hard-serving John Isner of the United States and veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. Isner won his first career title in Auckland in January and then was a finalist in Memphis, while Ferrero won back-to-back clay events in Costa Do Sauipe and Buenos Aires.

Also worth watching is Nikolay Davydenko who is likely still kicking himself for self-destructing against Federer in Melbourne and youngster Marin Cilic who made the semi-finals down-under and is ready to assert himself as a top-level threat in every event he enters.

I feel that with players like Federer, Nadal and Davydenko dealing with recent injuries or illnesses we are in for a Djokovic/Roddick final in Indian Wells. Those are my picks in the ATP World Tour Fantasy Challenge that begins Thursday at 2pm ET. Who will you choose?

CELEBS WATCH AS VENUS WILLIAMS TAKES HOME BILLIE JEAN KING CUP

Venus Williams won the Billie Jean King (BJK) cup last night beating Belgian Kim Clijsters  6-4, 3-6, 7-5 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.

Sister Serena was unable to attend the BJK cup due to a leg injury, missing the opportunity to avenge the loss of last year’s controversial match at the US Open.

“On the way here, I kept thinking, ‘I’m going to see Serena in New York,”’ Venus said. “We talked today, but we didn’t talk about tennis at all.”

Kim Clijsters was given a tough time in front of a Venus-friendly crowd of 11,702 and struggled especially in the beginning.

“In the beginning it took some time to find an aggressive game,” Clijsters said. “If you’re not feeling the ball 100 percent, it’s very hard. I kind of just had to look for my game a little bit, really look for my position on court. I got better as my match went on.”

Among the 11,702 people who attended in Madison Square Garden, New York,  were David Duchovny, Star Jones and Herb Wilson and Nancy Kerrigan.