little luck

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.

WIMBLEDON DAY 1: THE GREAT FALLA OF FEDERER?

By Peter Nez

I woke up eager for the start of Wimbledon, brewed my coffee, brushed my teeth, washed up and turned on the tube… WHAT?!?! Federer is down two sets to Love in his first round?? My phone was blowing up with beeps, and chimes, like a cacophony of Mockingbirds wailing in unison, messages blared, signaling a deafening call, a hollow haunting spell, doomsday has arrived – the tennis universe has collapsed.

Alejandro Falla, who had a winless record against the Maestro, losing badly in the warm-up to Wimbledon in Germany just a couple of weeks prior 6-1, 6-2 against Roger, had flipped the London skies over, stormed Big Ben, mowed the lawns with a trailblaze blitz of high octane ground strokes, beginning the firework display a tad too early. We were on the brink of the biggest upset in the history of tennis, even bigger than Soderling’s win over Nadal at the 2009 Roland Garros. At 4-4 in the third set, serving at 0-40 it looked to be in the forecast that the clouds of change were rolling in. Then it happened… Federer replaced the stone in his chest with the heart of a champion and took out the big paper shredder and everyone ran to their publisher telling them to cancel the dramatic headlines proclaiming ‘Federer has Fallan Down!”

The interstellar game of Falla came back down to earth and Federer was able to lift his wobbly game back up, something we expected to see at the French, but the problem was that Soderling stayed in orbit. This is what it takes to beat the greatest of all time – a day of all days, where the tennis gods inject your game with super fuel accuracy and pace, errorless, flawless, and a little luck doesn’t hurt, and actually goes a long way. For four grueling sets Falla exhibited one of those days. In a three set match there woudn’t have been enough time to come back down, but in a best of five gravity is always beckoning.

I was watching the Larry King show last night and his guest was Mick Jagger, who was promoting a much anticipated ‘Exile on Main St.’ deluxe edition with outtakes re-release and the suspender weaving King asked Jagger what the key to his longevity was, whereby producing a pondering pause from the great legend and finally Jagger responded with, “Well it takes a lot of luck. You have to be in the right place at the right time.” It seems that most people who excel in their chosen craft or profession never fail to overlook this crucial element. Federer certainly recognizes its significance. In Roger’s press conference following the match he spoke about how “unlucky” he was to lose matches this year that he felt, as did much of the tennis world, he “should have won.” Not taking away from his opponent’s skill and deserved victory, but merely acknowledging the importance of the intangible, something you can’t find on stat sheets, data analysis docs, and match up breakdowns.

“I definitely got very lucky out there today,” Federer said after the match. Maybe his luck has finally turned and he can return to the form we saw at the beginning of the year? Who knows? In a men’s game where the depth of talent is fathomless, he may need more luck than ever before.