Former No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko formally announced his retirement on Thursday, putting to bed a 15-year career that put the 33-year-old Russian in the running for one of the best players never win a Slam, let alone make a Slam final. He won 21 ATP titles, including three ATP Masters 1000s, and was a four-time Slam semifinalist. But his crowning achievement came just five years ago at the 2009 ATP World Tour Finals, where he defeated Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro to win the biggest title of his career.
Davydenko began the 2009 season ranked No. 5 but an injury-plagued first half of the season left him outside of the top ten in May. His qualification bid for the World Tour Finals finally earned a boost when he won the Shanghai Rolex Masters, beating No. 4 Djokovic in the semifinals and No. 2 Nadal in the final. Full of confidence and finally healthy, he headed to the World Tour Finals as the sixth-seed, after Andy Roddick was forced to withdraw with injury.
Here's how the elite eight were seeded:
- Roger Federer
- Rafael Nadal
- Novak Djokovic
- Andy Murray
- Juan Martin del Potro
- Nikolay Davydenko
- Fernando Verdasco
- Robin Soderling
Davydenko was drawn into Group B along with Djokovic, Nadal and Soderling -- three players he didn't have a winning record against. He was 3-4 vs. Nadal, 2-2 vs. Djokovic and 3-6 against Soderling. A runner-up at the World Tour Finals the year before, Davydenko once again found his mojo. In the first staging of the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena, the Russian played an incredible level of tennis on his march to the title.
Round Robin, Match No. 1: Davydenko vs. Djokovic
Davydenko loses but shows what a threat he is, pushing Djokovic deep into a third set before losing 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. At his best, Davydenko hugged the baseline, took the ball incredibly early and hit it back flat. His backhand was his best shot and his forehand could be a weapon when it was on. Opponents complained about the pressure they felt playing the Russian, saying they felt rushed through shot after shot as Davydenko took time away in the rallies.
Djokovic came into the match after back-to-back wins in Basel and the Paris Masters. It had not been a good year for Djokovic, who struggled for much of the season after switching rackets from Wilson to Head. His only loss after making the U.S. Open had come to Davydenko at the Shanghai Masters a few weeks earlier. Djokovic broke Davydenko early in the third set but was broken back when he served for the match. But Davydenko's serve, always a liability, was broken again and Djokovic won the match.
Round Robin, Match No. 2: Davydenko vs. Nadal
Davydenko retires as the only active player to play Nadal 10 or more times and walk away with a winning record. He was 6-5 against the Spaniard, and two of those wins came in 2009, when Davydenko beat Nadal in the Shanghai Masters final and then beat him again a few weeks later at the World Tour Finals. Davydenko beat Nadal 6-1, 7-6 (4) in group play to eliminate him from the tournament (Nadal had lost to Soderling in straight sets in his first match). "I'm not so happy," Davydenko said after the match. "It's a round-robin, it's not like I've won the tournament. I show my good tennis today. I was surprised. We'll see if I can show the same tennis in the third match. [against Soderling]."
What was it about Davydenko that caused Nadal so many problems? Here's Nadal after losing to him in Shanghai that year. "Probably he's a guy, well, calm guy," he said. "Doesn't show no emotions sometimes. The people probably don't talk a lot about him, but the players, we know how good is Nikolay, no? And when he's playing his best level, he's very difficult to play against him. He has all the shots from the baseline. He has all the shots. He play inside the court, and he's very difficult to play. It's very difficult to play against him."
Round Robin, Match No. 3: Davydenko vs. Soderling
Davydenko's fate was in his own hands going into his final round robin match. He beat Soderling, the man who handed Nadal his only loss ever at Roland Garros that year, and he qualified for the semifinals. It took Davydenko three sets but he got it done, winning 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3.
Semifinals: Davydenko vs. Federer
Davydenko came into the match 0-12 against Federer and he was the only man in the top ten Davydenko had never beaten. In fact, in those 12 matches, Davydenko only managed to win four sets. This time he was coming off the big win over Nadal and said he felt no pressure. "Really don't think about anything," Davydenko said. "Just think about, 'Okay, I losing, tomorrow go home, next day already Maldives.' That's really my mind. Really don't care. I have no pressure. I know I was play good."
Davydenko had just 15 hours to recover from his win over Soderling, while Federer had an extra day off. The two split the first two sets and the match was decided on the smallest of margins. Neither man broke serve until Federer served at 5-all. Davydenko was able to scramble a break behind some great returning and he would hold serve to win.
Final: Davydenko vs. Del Potro
After back-to-back three set wins over players who owned him, Davydenko faced 22-year-old U.S. Open champion Del Potro in the Masters final. This time the Russian had no problems, winning 6-3, 6-4 to win the title. After the match, Del Potro tipped his cap to the Russian, and spawned one of the best tennis nicknames of the past decade. "He's very fast," Del Potro said. "He play like PlayStation. You know, he run to everywhere. Is very difficult to make winners."
As for Davydenko, he hoped that the win would bolster his popularity in Russia. A quiet man with a game that appeared weaponless on its surface, Davydenko didn't have the dynamic personality of the Russian champions who came before him. Though he never won a Slam, he was the only Russian man to finish in the top 10 for five consecutive years. "I hope after this tournament I coming more famous in Russia," he said. "For me it's really important. I know always I was [disappointed] really, like in Moscow I play against Marat [Safin]. Mostly, like 80%, support Safin this match. For sure is last tournament for him. But I saw how many people like him, how support him, how [they] enjoy how Marat play. For me it's really a little bit disappointment, really. I hope now Marat is finished, now is no more famous in Russia. And, yeah, I hope for the next, like in the futures, I be famous for Russia and everybody support me."