Exhausted by injuries, David Nalbandian decided to end his tennis career last week, at 31 years old. For fun, he will play two exhibition matches against Rafael Nadal in late November. Meanwhile, we decided to go back on the career of one of the best players of the decade, between rally racing and fishing parties.
1/ A forged date of birth?
Unquillo. It's in this small town in northern Argentina, known for its great biodiversity and mountainous areas that David Nalbandian was born in 1982. On January 1st. "With my birth, I kept my family from celebrating that year" he said in press conference once. Unfortunately, some South American journalists have contested the accuracy of his birth year for a while. A persistent rumour: Nalbandian would actually be a year older than what is said on his ATP profile. A fact sheet adulterated during his younger years to increase his chances of success in junior. Indeed, to rank well in junior was very important at a time when economic difficulties started to hit the country. Especially for his uncles and cousins who were working hard to pay for all his travels and tournaments. #crisiseffect
2/ "They looked at us like aliens"
In the Nalbandian family, the father is Armenian, the mother is Italian and the three sons were born in Argentina. The paternal grandfather fled from Europe to Buenos Aires shortly before World War II. Moreover, it was the latter, with the help of some friends, who built the Cordoba tennis court where David hit his first balls. A court made of... concrete cement! "It was like playing in a rubbish tip said David, who trained there throughout his adolescence. In a country where clay is king, people looked at us like aliens." A strange species that has always preferred the beauty of grass to the slides on ochre of its illustrious compatriots at Roland Garros. A matter of education: « At home, we were watching a lot of tennis. Since I was a kid, I was dazzled by Becker's performances at Wimbledon. This guy was such a character, he jumped around, he dived... Since then, I've been dreaming of winning this tournament.»
3/ Disqualified at Wimbledon
Half a dream come true, when he made it to Wimbledon final against Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. That year, Nalbandian was still unbeaten on grass. Indeed, during his only participation in London among juniors three years earlier, the Argentine won the doubles, while in simples, he was disqualified in the semi-finals... for being late on the court! In his defence, the tournament organizers changed the time of the match at the last minute. "I will sleep in the stands if I have to, he told the Guardian before the final in 2002. Immediately after the announcement of my disqualification, I exchanged emails with my friends in Argentina while I should have been playing. I felt so lonely.»
4 / Rain, television and Nicolas Lapentti
« A final on grass, you don't play it... You win it», he said before that match against Lleyton Hewitt. But lost in three straight sets, him who trained so hard at the Buenos Aires cricket club (where he drew lines on the grass to make a tennis court) a few weeks earlier. At home, his relatives also had a hard time following his exploits. During his quarter-final against Nicolas Lapentti, and since no match was broadcasted live, a neighbour of the family had to take his television in the street for the whole neighbourhood to follow the journey of the prodigal son: « Everyone was watching my match when it started to rain, he explained in The Observer. Rain shocked the television and nobody saw my last set. Apparently, my mother was so stressed that she could have killed someone!»
5 / He hurts an umpire (on purpose?)
"The worst moment of my career." June 17th 2012, David Nalbandian was disqualified from the final of the Queen's against the Croatian Marin Cilic for giving a rage kick in the chair of a linesman. Angry after losing his service, the trunk of the chair shattered and cut the leg of the umpire. The British police, under the leadership of some ATP leaders, decided to open an investigation for "assault" and "unsportsmanlike conduct." And fined the accused 9,500 euros, who stroke back a few weeks later: "It was an involuntary act, I apologized. What else can I do?"
6/ "There aren’t many sharks in Argentina"
Fishing, golf, horse riding, scuba diving and even rally racing. If he clearly loves Mother Nature and outdoor sports, David Nalbandian loves the noise of motors roaring just as much. In 2007, he even decided to start a rally team with his pilot friend Marcos Ligato: The Tango Rally Team. The team competed in the World Rally Championship, in the category production cars. Even better, Nalbandian himself participates to lower level competitions. A dangerous hobby? So what about this month of January 2002, when during the Australian Open, the Argentine had the 'brilliant' idea to go swimming with the sharks? And big ones, apparently: "I love cars but I love sharks even more. So maybe after my career, I will study marine biology or something like that. I have quite a few books on the subject. But hey, there aren’t many sharks in Argentina...»
7/ The world's top three out
One of the most anecdotal performances of his career. In Madrid in 2007, Nalbandian entered the closed circle of the only three players in history to have achieved the feat of beating the world No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 during the same tournament. Boris Becker succeeded this feat first in Stockholm in 1994 and Djokovic in Montreal in 2007.
8/ « I had already taken my fishing rods »
Mid-November 2005. A few days before the Shanghai Masters tournament featuring the best players in the world everything went wrong: Lleyton Hewitt was about to be a dad, Andy Roddick had a painful back and Marat Safin needed surgery while Nadal injured his foot. The tournament organizers had a shortage of good racquets and had to call for replacements. And guess what? "I never imagined that there could be as many forfeits for them to call me, I had already taken my fishing rods..." confesses the blond giant who was on holidays in Argentina. In a hurry, he took three flights and two transfers to rally the Chinese megalopolis. Result: David won the most beautiful victory of his career after defeating Roger Federer in final and collected in passing a check for $ 1.4 million and a Mercedes CLK 250. Well done!
9/ « The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas in the blood »
Fragile, emotional, lack of conviction or confidence. Many reasons why David Nalbandian has never won a single Grand Slam. To idle speculation, he prefers evoking the excuse of the "exceptional talent of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal which slowed the rise of many good players like me." However, he proved to have a strong character like when he got upset in 2008 during a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas match with Juan Martín del Potro, causing the latter's departure from the selection. That year, in the final against the Spaniards, he even received a fine of 7,500 euros, for failure to appear at a press conference after a defeat in doubles. «I have the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas in the blood. This has always been my biggest obsession.»
10/ « Actually I'm kind of crazy»
You understood that David is a thrill-seeker. More aerial this time, he experimented in 2004 bungee jumping from the top of the Danube Tower in Vienna, during the first day of rest of the local tournament. Height of the jump? 152 meters, the tallest tower in the old continent. The next morning, he qualified easily for the next round. As if nothing happened. "It was amazing, he said in an interview for ESPN. I always thought I had a wild side but in fact I'm kind of crazy. And I like it."