A few days before the 2005 Shanghai Masters, David Nalbandian was far, very far, from his greatest tour victory. He was about to go fishing with his friends in the depths of Patagonia...   It all started...

A few days before the 2005 Shanghai Masters, David Nalbandian was far, very far, from his greatest tour victory. He was about to go fishing with his friends in the depths of Patagonia...

  It all started like a good old American movie. "I was in Unquails (his hometown, near Cordoba, Editor's note), about to go on a trip with a few friends and my brothers. I had put my racquet away and I was, let's put it this way, 'disconnected' from the tour" says David Nalbandian quite bluntly. It was mid-November 2005. In his mind, his season was over, ended with a respectable eleventh place in the ATP rankings. But a cascade of injuries and other withdrawals were to hasten his return to the Shanghai Masters. Lleyton Hewitt was about to become a father, Andy Roddick had a back injury and Marat Safin had to undergo surgery while Nadal had injured his foot. "I never thought there could be so many withdrawals for them to call me, I had already taken the fishing rods out..." confesses the blond giant today. Reaching into his closet, the Argentine took his racquets and took three flights to get to the Chinese city in a hurry: "I ​​hesitated before saying yes, I wasn't really looking forward to such a long trip for a replacement and I had already scheduled my holiday but I found the motivation and decided to go."  

Racquets against fishing rods

This is how the 2002 Wimbledon finalist found himself on the other side of the world just a few hours later, "and it had been several days since I had touched a racquet." After a slow start against Federer leading to a defeat in three sets ("I first had to get over the jet-lag"), Nalbandian gradually made Qi Zhong's indoor courts his own. Two victories, over his compatriot Guillermo Coria and the in-form Ivan Ljubicic, set up a meeting with Nikolay Davydenko. He beat the Russian in straight sets (6-0, 7-5) and reached the final of the Masters, 31 years after his compatriot Guillermo Vilas. "I was so happy, who would have thought that I could go so far..." said King David. Meanwhile, Federer had just handed Coria the ignominy of a double-bagel and cast a daunting shadow ahead of their encounter.   "The most beautiful moment of (his) career"   Federer’s impressive form continued in the first exchanges as the Swiss won the first two sets and seemed to be headed for his twenty-fifth consecutive victory in finals. The Argentine didn't see it the same way. "It's true, he won the first two sets, but they were hotly contested sets,” he analysed. “I felt good and started to build confidence. I didn’t intend to gift him the match...” Instead, he felt that the tide was turning in his favour: "I don't know if he was tired, but I won the third and fourth sets quite easily." And he also remembers the last moments: "I always believed in the victory, but when Federer served at 6-5 and 30-0 in the last set, I was having a hard time." He forced the tiebreak and eventually hit the winning point of a legendary final. The score: 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6. Phew. "It’s the most beautiful moment of my career" said the native of Cordoba on Argentine television, talking to him while he was bursting into tears. A judgment that he confirms still rings true today: "Yes, it was the high-point of my tennis life." Because he played without pressure? "No, the pressure was there, otherwise I would not have been able to make any shots..." he says. Result: a victory in a final against the best player in the history of tennis, with a bonus check of $ 1.4 million and a Mercedes CLK 250. Enough to pay for a nice trip, and room for his fishing rods in the trunk… By Florent Torchut