Nikolay Davydenko, one of only a handful of players to have beaten Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the same tournament, has a new year’s resolution of making a last bid to return the world’s top 20 before retirement.
Three years ago, the former world number three from Russia caused a sensation here while capturing the Qatar Open title, first overcoming Federer and then winning the final from match points down against Nadal after dropping the first set to love.
Now a dashing New Year’s Eve win over Victor Hanescu of Romania by 6-2, 6-3 has prompted Davydenko to claim he is the fittest he has been since breaking his wrist in Rotterdam two months after his Qatari thunderbolts.
“I tell everyone from my family I will push myself — I want to (win) again,” said Davydenko, whose greatest triumph involved another win over Federer, en route to winning the 2009 ATP World Tour finals in London.
The 31-year-old asserts that he is “practising concentration” because he is “already not so young” and “maybe has two more years, but maybe only this year left”.
Davydenko concluded: “If I have no more injuries and really concentrate for matches and for practice, I can maybe be top 20 again.”
That will depend to a large extent on whether he can impose his unusual flat-hitting, early-ball, risk-taking style with sufficient consistency to deny opportunities to taller, more muscular, harder-hitting opponents who can power him off the court.
Revived ambition has also revived Davydenko’s dark humour. While some players bemoan the absence of Nadal, both from this tournament and from the ATP World Tour at least until mid-February, Davydenko talks differently.
“If Nadal will be here and I, like, play against him first round, I will not enjoy this one,” the former champion said, causing laughter.
“Last time I played Federer first round here. This time I was surprised. I was really thinking Federer and Nadal play here, but Federer not here and Nadal not here – perfect,” he added, bringing more mirth.
Davydenko’s humour was shielded from bitterness by his place alongside Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and David Nalbandian as the only players to have overcome Nadal and Federer in the same week.
Davydenko’s other new year resolution has been vigorously to celebrate the arrival of 2013. “I really didn’t enjoy playing on the 31st,” he claimed, still talking mischievously.
“I ask the tournament director (Karim Alami) please put me on first or second match — I really don’t want to be late.
“We have no Merry Christmas in Russia, but the new year it’s like really a celebration for us. We make some party, enjoy this time. I am allowed to drink this time.
“I said if I play on the 1st, it doesn’t matter what time you put me on – you can put me last. But I shall enjoy not playing on new year’s day. I can sleep and play my match on the 2nd.”
That match will be against his fourth-seeded compatriot Mikhail Youzhny, who struggled past Benjamin Becker, the world number 56 from Germany, by 4-6, 7-6(7-3), 6-1. Youzhny will know better than most that Davydenko’s sweet-and-sour humour serves partly to mask one last serious ambition.