It wasn’t the dream final for tournament organizers or American fans, but Russian Nikolay Davydenko made a statement on Sunday by capturing the biggest title of his career at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.
Andy Roddick, who American fans continue to vilify each time he falls short of challenging the top triumvirate of world No. 1 Roger Federer, No. 2 Rafael Nadal, and No. 3 Novak Djokovic, fell in the semifinals to Davydenko after upsetting Federer in the quarters. Davydenko’s 6-4, 6-2 dismantling of Nadal in the final took some of the sting out of Roddick’s loss in retrospect as the Russian flexed his superior court muscle against the muscle-bound Nadal.
“I could not have played better because he was just too good,” Nadal said following the final.
Davydenko fought off a match point in an earlier-round match, and was 0-5 versus Roddick entering their semifinal meeting. Entering Miami, Davydenko switched to a different version of his racquet with a denser string bed, which allowed him to take huge cuts at the ball while maintaining control. The Russian ate Nadal’s whippy groundstrokes for lunch in the final, pounding winners from all corners of the court.
It is ironic as, behind the scenes, Davydenko is the last player ATP officials wanted to see on the podium in the international spotlight lifting the Miami trophy. The ATP has been doing its best to find evidence that Davydenko has been involved in match fixing after the Russian was involved in a match where he retired in the third set, but Russian betters had placed millions in wages on his opponent AFTER Davydenko had won the first set.
The ATP’s investigation has gone on for over a year, and according to the Davydenko camp, has crossed the line from investigation to harassment, with no evidence produced from the ATP. He has also spoke publicly about the ATP being perhaps out to get him, and that maybe they’d like to make room in the Top 10 for another [more marketable] star. To his credit, Davydenko has used the controversy to fuel his competitive fire, as opposed to Martina Hingis, who claimed she was innocent after a positive drug test for cocaine but promptly retired.
Davydenko is the antithesis of the suave Federer or the handsome frat-boy appeal of Roddick. The balding Russian, while a fixture in the Top 10, is shunned by the major clothing manufacturers, and his choppy (but much-improved) English frequently makes him a stoic, personality-challenged interview (also improving).
In the end the day in both result and spirit goes to Davydenko, who many due to the weight of evidence have already judged guilty of the match-fixing charge, which would certainly be an end to his career. But through pressure from various entities, the ATP could stop dragging its feet and come out with a decision in the next few months.
Davydenko made some new fans via the Miami final coverage with his determined play, his gracious demeanor and his “I only have one racquet” underdog story. If his name is cleared of the match-fixing accusations, with a second Masters Series title under his belt and his sponsor appeal on the increase, it could be a new era for the under-the-radar Russian.
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