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Nalbandian still confident of winning big


 

Originally published on: 20/03/12 12:47

Is David Nalbandian destined to disappoint? The Cordoba native’s ranking has endlessly fluctuated. In 2010 persistent knee injuries saw him drop well out of the top 100 but in better health he continues to threaten the elite of the men’s game even at the ripe old age of 30. Just last week he re-emerged as a possible threat after taking Rafael Nadal to three sets in the quarter-finals in Indian Wells, promptly clambering 24 places in the rankings to No.50.

So why can he not sustain? His potential is unquestionable. Breaking into the top 100 for the first time in July 2001 at the age of 19, he leapt from 111th to 92nd in the space of a fortnight. He managed to finish the year within the top 50 and rose further to settle in amongst the top 12 for five years from 2002 until 2006, cracking the top 10 by January 2003. There were many highlights – reaching the Wimbledon final in 2002, beating Federer in the Masters Cup Final of 2005, reaching a career high of No.3 mid-2006, and retaining the spot almost continuously for over four months. Yet all this came against a backdrop of frustrating results. During his extended stint in the top 12, he collected only four titles other than the Masters Cup, three of them in ATP World Tour 250 series events.

In 2007 he was sent slipping and sliding down the rankings, dropping not just out of the top 10, but out of the top 20 for the first time since 2003. And then, of course, he went on to finish the year at No.9 having beaten both Federer and Nadal within the same tournament not once, but twice, each time on his way to a Masters 1000 titles in Paris and Madrid. The importance of these victories cannot be overestimated, having come at a time when Federer and Nadal reigned supreme at the top of the men’s game. Nalbandian’s website still features the video of his triumph over Nadal in the 2007 Paris Masters final, where he demolished the Spaniard in straight sets 6-4, 6-0.

The possibility of victories arriving by luck is absurd – before Nadal, Nalbandian was the only player who was really able to rattle Federer’s cage. Their head to head may stand at 11-3 in favour of the Swiss but to put that in perspective, Federer holds a 12-0 advantage over current world No.5 David Ferrer.

And yet, although the surge of momentum in 2007 kept Nalbandian lurking in the background of the top 10 for most of 2008, it wasn’t enough to stave off another slump in 2009. This time, he didn’t just drop out of the top 10, or 20, or even 50. He was out of the top 100 altogether by January 2010. Later in the year, after recovering from several knee injuries, there was another resurgence, with a drop mid-2011 back down into the 80s. And now, characteristically, he has made the leap from the 70s right back up to No.50.

The Argentine’s ambitions have never been tempered by his lack of significant titles. Asked after his astonishing display of prowess in 2007 what his aims were for 2008, his response was: “My first Grand Slam, an Olympic Gold medal in Beijing and the Davis Cup.” These are feats that even Andy Murray would surely place in the realm of overly-optimistic for a single year, but his belief in his own abilities appears unshakeable.

“When I’m confident, I know I can beat anybody,” Nalbandian said. Though his form may have faltered since, one thing never in doubt has been his self-belief, even four years later. Talking about his relatively lowly ranking at Indian Wells, Nalbandian seemed confident that returning to the top of the men’s game is not beyond him: “It’s tough but I know that I have to beat a lot of good players if I want to come back. And I think I’m ready to do it.”

Has the eternal underachiever got a surprise left in his locker?

– Olivia Lee

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