The look of an antihero, slender, bald; a sense of humour as cold as Siberia and above all, very fast skills, earning him the sweet nicknames of "PlayStation" and the "pitching machine". Snubbed by the media, but flamboyant in his own way, virgin of any Grand Slam final but collector of Masters 1000, anti-Marat Safin but married to the ex girlfriend of his serial lover compatriot, Nikolay Davydenko, who retired a few days ago, left a unique memory in the tennis of the Noughties. WAT then decided to go back on his first stunt: his victory at the BNP Paribas Masters in 2006.
"I don't have a contract with Prince because they don't have money. It’s the crisis you know. I know that Prince gave all the cash to Sharapova so there is nothing left for others." Not easy to exist in the mid-2000s. Everything had to be smart, attractive. The glamorous Russian dolls WTA answered the classic elegance of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's animal magnetism. So where did Nikolay Davydenko stand, him who was so uncharismatic, with his tiny muscles (1.78m for 65kg) and who cared about his image about as much as the first hair he lost when he was still a teenager? Even marketers seemed confused: Even when he was world number three, the Russian, born in Ukraine, had no sponsor. Blank jersey, hidden racquet brand, the only player able to keep up behind the ogre of ochre and of master of all the rest of the tennis world wasn’t easy to sell.
But that didn't prevent him from winning: when he arrived at the BNP Paribas Masters in 2006, Davydenko had already raised four trophies since the month of January, at Poertschach and Sopot on clay courts, in New Haven on hard courts and in Moscow indoor. He also played a semi-final at the US Open and, was preparing with the Russian team to play- and win - the final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. In Paris, he couldn’t care less to be the only member of the Top 6 to have made the trip, while Federer, Nadal, Nalbandian, Roddick and Ljubicic were all conspicuous by their absence. Davydenko had a golden opportunity to win a first title in Masters 1000 and didn’t intend to let it slip away: for his opening match, he defeated the Belgian Christophe Rochus, 6-0 6-0 in 35 minutes. The tone was set. His compatriot Dmitry Tursunov wasn’t much more of a challenge in the last 16 (6/2 6/2).
And when he defeated the excellent Mario Ancic, world number 11, in the quarterfinals (6/3 6/3), the doubt was no longer possible: the man of the tournament, it had to be him. "When he plays like that, you can run pointlessly or just stop and watch,” said the Croatian player. ”It goes so fast it's even hard to breathe. It's a PlayStation. I think that even Roger Federer cannot play as fast as him."
« New York, it’s dirty and stinks of piss »
In interviews, the Russian didn’t do frills. Adversity and withdrawals? "Who's there or who's not there, it's not my problem. I'm here to beat the opponents that are in front of me." The pressure to be the favourite of such a big tournament? "What pressure? It's not a Grand Slam." So what is his dream Grand Slam? Definitely not Wimbledon: "It's the most boring tournament in the world. There's nothing to do in between matches." Not the US Open neither: "New York is dirty and stinks of piss." When, in desperation, journalists try to get a smile out of him by mentioning his upcoming wedding to the lovely Irina. Questions to which he answered: "Marriage is mainly to please women. It’s a moment when everyone look at them wearing a beautiful dress."
So, a bully, Davydenko? Not really. Rather a sensitive man in hiding. His prize list in Grand Slam tournaments, scrawny with regard to the rest of his record, would prove it in the aftermath. And when in the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Masters, Tommy Robredo managed to get back to one set all while Davydenko had been dominating in the first set, the memory of his failure a few months earlier, at the Hamburg Masters 1000, while withdrawals and defeats had made of him the favourite for the title, started to come back. "I thought about it, yes. But I think that I've learned from this defeat. I didn't want to relive it," admitted the Russian after his victory over the Spaniard, still 7th in the ATP rankings (6/3 5/7 6/2).
The hardest part was actually already done with this victory over Robredo. In the final, he met the Slovak Dominik Hrbaty, who took advantage of the withdrawal of Tommy Haas in the previous round. The Slovak, 27th player in the world, would probably have preferred for the German to meet Davydenko that day... Everything went way too fast for him. Stuck on the baseline, playing almost every shot in half volley, the Russian was easily distributing and Hrbaty ended up dusting the corners of the Paris-Bercy centre court. After an hour and a half, the shortest final in the history of the tournament was over: 6/1 6/2 6/2, victory by knockout. From "Terminator" to "Dominator".
Airness, Nadal, credit card and fishing rod
In the stands, the audience, already small, had largely deserted at the end of the second set. The audience was so sparse that, rare thing, the organization allowed the spectactors to change seats and move down to the lower stands. "Thank you for coming," thanked the winner, tongue-in-cheek. With 27 games lost in five matches played, a record still in place at the BNP Paribas Masters - and his outspokenness, Nikolay Davydenko had at least managed to catch the eye of a rising brand, wishing to make a small place for itself in tennis: Airness. To celebrate, the world number 3 offered a last vengeful salvo: "Nike and Adidas pay to have their protégés on television. I have no contract with them, so I am nothing. But fuck Nike. Yes, you can write it. Fuck Nike. "
From there, the Russian didn’t had to wait for a very long time for true sports recognition: in 2008, he defeated Rafael Nadal and won his second Masters 1000 in Miami; the third followed in Shanghai in 2009, still at the expense of Nadal. Real nemesis of the Spaniard - six victories in eleven matches, including a stinging 3-0 in the final - he mostly played an incredible Masters in 2009: besides Nadal, he defeated Soderling, Federer and Del Potro to win his greatest trophy. But he was never fooled: "What memory will I leave? Honestly, who is interested in this Davydenko? He has never won a Grand Slam, was never world number 1. But it doesn’t matter: I earned enough cash for Irina to do as much shopping as she wants. As for me, I'll be chilling out, probably fishing."