Although injury prevented Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2008-09 champion, from defending his title at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic; Del Potro’s countryman , wildcard entrant David Nalbandian, proved an excellent substitute. Despite being gravely tested by Marcos Baghdatis, the 8th and sole remaining seed, Nalbandian walked away with the championship with a 6-2, 7-6 victory.
As a former world number three, Nalbandian’s current ranking of 117 due to hip surgery and other injuries the past twelve months did not reflect his talent. In phenomenal form this week, dropping just one set prior to the final, Nalbandian felt his game was now coming together. Classify it as arrogance, confidence or clairvoyance, after his semifinal win yesterday, Nalbandian intimated that if his form held up, he would run away with the title.
The first game of the match, following two errors by Baghdatis, Nalbandian connected on a forehand crosscourt return winner to earn triple break point. When Baghdatis’ forehand landed long, Nalbandian took the game. Next, the Argentine consolidated for a 2-0 lead. His next time serving, Baghdatis got on the board for 2-1. Too many return mistakes by Baghdatis especially on second serves led to short rallies and permitted Nalbandian to maintain the break advantage for 4-2. After having game point, Baghdatis double faulted for deuce. Then, by netting a backhand down the line, the Cypriot donated another break point. Nalbandian capitalized by hitting a backhand pass for a winner and 5-2. By comfortably holding, Nalbandian wrapped up the first set in 32 minutes.
In yesterday’s semifinal, Nalbandian required just 72 minutes to dismiss fourth seed Marin Cilic. His first set performance gave off the vibe that this might be another short match. After having a game point, Baghdatis double faulted and later on in the first game gave Nalbandian a break point. Fortunately for the Cypriot, he guarded serve. The subsequent game, it was Nalbandian who cracked, committing two double faults to gift Baghdatis his first break and a 2-0 lead. Quickly though, Nalbandian rebounded with a forehand down the line winner for double break point which he banked after a backhand error by Baghdatis. In the fourth game, Baghdatis obtained double break point on another Nalbandian double fault. Despite Nalbandian having to resort to his second serve, Baghdatis failed to seize those chances. Too casual on a forehand volley, Baghdatis dumped it in the net on his fifth break point. Ultimately, Nalbandian salvaged six break points to level the set at 2 all. Next, on another mistake filled game, Nalbandian broke to move ahead 3-2. Nevertheless, Baghdatis did not relent and promptly stole the following game to get back on serve. After holding, Baghdatis knocked at the door again, earning two break points, yet was rebuked by Nalbandian. Following three love holds by the players, with Nalbandian serving at 5-6, Baghdatis reached set point. As before, Nalbandian dug out of trouble and pushed the set to a tiebreaker.
Aided by miscues from Baghdatis, Nalbandian rolled off five straight points in the tiebreaker for 5-0. With Baghdatis misfiring on an easy forehand, Nalbandian arrived at 6-3 and had three championship points. As Baghdatis’ forehand up the line sailed wide, Nalbandian claimed his 11th career trophy. The Argentine’s first since Sydney 2009.
Subsequent to the match, Baghdatis’ analysis was as follow when asked by MiamiTennisNews:
Q. Did you feel you had to go for more on your second serve because Nalbandian returns so well?
Baghdatis: Yes. I felt in the second set I had to mix it up a bit, go for more. I think I did pretty well in the second set. We are two players who are great at returning. I think if I served better today especially first serve, with more free points, I could have won.. I did not do that which was the key to the match.
Still, after being ranked in the 150’s last year and relegated to the challenger circuit to regain his form after injury, Baghdatis expressed there are multiple positives to build on from this week since his ranking will be back around 21.
For his part, Nalbandian stated despite practicing well, coming into the tournament he did not hold any expectation. However, “when I started hitting the ball well. . .after the first match [then] the second, I felt really good”. Thus, at that point Nalbandian started to believe he could triumph.
Q. The last time Baghdatis and you played was three years ago and he had a 3-1 record against you. Both of you are coming back from injuries, how did you approach the match? Was there anything different about your game or his game that you had to adjust to?
Nalbandian: Not really. His style of play was the same, and that goes for all players. [The difference is whether the person] is playing with more or less confidence. He was injured and came back earlier than me. So, it was a little tougher for me.
Regarding the U.S. Open, Nalbandian says “I will try my best . . . If I continue to play this well, I have a chance to go far”.
Although the tournament has been around since 1969, records have been meticulously maintained only since the 1980’s. While it could not be confirmed with absolute certainty, today, Nalbandian officially became the first wildcard player to prevail. On Monday, Nalbandian’s ranking will soar to around 45.