Top-seeded David Ferrer was sensationally denied a place in the final of the Qatar Open on Friday by forgotten man Nikolay Davydenko.
The 31-year-old Russian, without a win over a top 10 player in 15 attempts, and without an appearance in a final for 21 months, clinched a stunning 6-2, 6-3 win over one of the tour’s most tenacious players.
Davydenko beat the Spaniard with a bullying brilliance which reminded people a little of the successive victories he produced over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal when he capture the title in Doha three years ago.
Since then Davydenko has been hit by injuries, loss of form, and even loss of direction, sinking to an eight-year low of world number 50 last year. He is still outside the top 40.
Now he showed how keen he is make good his ambition for one last bid to regain a top 20 place, smacking the ball hard and flat, striking it early, and taking cleverly judged risks in coming to the net.
Ferrer is almost certain to overtake Nadal as world number four after the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam, which begins in little more than a week’s time in Melbourne.
He is also coming from the best year of his career, in which he won more titles, seven, and more matches, 76, than any other player. But now he was knocked from side to side by a player reborn.
“I didn’t have a chance against that,” said Ferrer. “He was just better than me in every way. He served better, he hit the ball better, and he played really well.
“Although it was the first tournament of the season, that was no excuse. Every tournament on the ATP World Tour is important, and I have to improve.”
He will try to do that by flying straight to Auckland to play another Aussie Open warm-up event.
Davydenko, who will face Richard Gasquet in Saturday’s final and who has neither dropped a set nor lost a service game all week, showed early signs that he was going to deliver a very special performance.
Ferrer hung on to his opening service game, but then was allowed only one of the next 16 points, without ever really playing badly.
He managed to fight his way back from 0-40 to rescue his service game for 2-3, but it did little to stem the flood. Davydenko broke again for 5-2, closed out the set quickly, and continued to look dangerous in the second set.
Sure enough from 3-3 onwards the Ukraine-born Muscovite hit another hot streak with his battering ground strokes and bold forward moves.
He took 14 of the next 16 points, eyes bulging, feet flying and racket flashing, leaving the impression that he had made himself the unofficial favourite for the title.
“I have waited a long time for when I would reach a final again,” said Davydenko, clearly greatly relishing his tremendous form. “This a very good result for me, but I must go step by step.
“I still have to get fitter, that is the key. If I do, then I don’t lose concentration, and if I can do that I can control everything and the tennis seems easy.
“I can play faster and then I feel I can beat anyone. And that will be the key in the final.”
That will be against the second-seeded Gasquet, the world number 10 from France who overcame Daniel Brands, the German giant-killer, 7-5, 7-5.
Though a qualifier ranked outside the top 150, Brands had won six matches, despatched two seeds, and indicated, with his unusual inside-out forehand and net-attacking game that he is making a career-changing surge into the ATP World Tour on a regular basis for the first time.
But Gasquet blunted the Brands weapons, sometimes playing a little further up the court, denying time and reducing angles.
Allied to solid serving and a high ratio of winners to losers (32-13), he had many reasons to celebrate victory with a leap and a yell.
“I practised a lot because I knew I was coming to Doha and I wanted to do well here. It’s a big win for me,” said Gasquet. “Saving the break points (early on) was important. I was mentally tough.
“I am feeling confident about my game and feel I can do well again. Now I want to win the tournament.”