The 2013 season saw the end of the road for several prominent ATP players. The Grandstand bids its second farewell to David Nalbandian.
David Nalbandian brought just about everything to the table throughout his 13-year career on the ATP World Tour. There was controversy (the ongoing saga of Argentina’s Davis Cup team, kicking a linesman in the 2012 Queen’s Club final). There were seven wins over players ranked No. 2 at the time and three wins over players ranked No. 1 at the time (all three over Roger Federer). There were bromances (most notably with Rafael Nadal) and feuds (most notably with Juan Martin Del Potro). There was even a Grand Slam final (2002 Wimbledon).
A look back at Nalbandian’s career:
Career-high ranking: 3
ATP titles: 11
Masters titles (year-end championship included): 3
Grand Slam finals: 1
Biggest win: 2005 Masters Cup final – beat Roger Federer 6-7(4), 6-7(11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(3)
Nalbandian’s 7-6(2), 6-4, 1-6, 2-6, 6-2 win over Xavier Malisse in the 2002 Wimbledon semifinals was huge, but he was not exactly an underdog in the match and it certainly did not lead to much (he got blown out 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 by Lleyton Hewitt in the final). Heading into the 2005 year-end championship finale, Federer was an outrageous 81-3 with titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He had also defeated Nalbandian in an opening round-robin match in Shanghai. The top-ranked Swiss appeared to be on his way to another victory when he took the first two sets in tiebreakers at the Argentine’s expense. Instead, Nalbandian battled back for a miraculous five-set triumph after four hours and 33 minutes of play. A wild fifth set saw Nalbandian lead 4-0 only to get broken three times before Federer served for the championship at 6-5. Nalbandian managed to break back and finally maintained momentum by dominating the tiebreaker. Fun fact: Nalbandian was ranked 12th at the start of the tournament and only got in as a replacement for an injured Andy Roddick.
Most heartbreaking loss: 2003 U.S. Open semifinals – lost to Andy Roddick 6-7(4), 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-1, 6-3
Ah, what could have been…. Even though he did not reach the final like he did at the All-England Club one year earlier, Nalbandian without question came closest to winning a Grand Slam title at the 2003 U.S. Open. Had he finished off Roddick, the Argentine would have faced Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final. Ferrero was ranked No. 3 in the world behind Andre Agassi (lost to Ferrero in the semifinals) and Federer (lost to Nalbandian in the fourth round) and the Spaniard was far more accomplished on clay than on hard courts. Nalbandian came within one point of beating Roddick, but he could not quite get the job done. Not only did the world No. 12 lead two sets to love, but he also pulled ahead 6-5 in the third-set tiebreaker. However, it was Roddick’s serve and the American threw down a 138 MPH ace to stay alive. Roddick stole the set four points later and the rest is history.
Last match: Miami Masters first round – lost to Jarkko Nieminen 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
Nobody could have predicted that this would be the last match of Nalbandian’s career; not even after it was over and certainly not while it was in progress. After all, Nalbandian ran off nine consecutive games following a 2-0 first-set deficit to lead by a seemingly-insurmountable 6-2, 3-0 margin. He even had a game point on serve for a 4-0 edge that would have almost definitely been too much for Nieminen to overcome. Showcasing body language that suggested he was completely out of the match both mentally and physically, Nieminen started hitting almost every groundstroke as hard as he could and going for winners with just about every stroke. Out of nowhere, the Finn suddenly began connecting with those shots. He broke for 1-3 in the second and from there he was off to the races, ultimately completing a hard-to-believe comeback in one hour and 49 minutes.
Comments, disagreements, and your own personal Nalbandian reflections are encouraged!