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Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Updated: January 30, 1:54 AM ET
In the blink of an eye, the real Fed returned

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Three years ago at the French Open, Patty Schnyder lost a heartbreaker to Maria Sharapova. Schnyder, a tricky Swiss lefty who never really lived up to potential, failed to capitalize on two match points in the final set and fell 9-7. Afterward, she proclaimed that Sharapova, a multiple Grand Slam winner, was a "big" champion and she was a "little" one.

You could say much the same thing about another Swiss-Russian combo, Roger Federer and Nikolay Davydenko. No prizes for guessing which one's which.

Not for the first time against Federer on the big stage, Davydenko crumbled, collapsed, capitulated, whatever you want to call it. Federer's 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5 victory on Wednesday was simply the latest installment. In their Australian Open quarterfinal, Davydenko lost so ugly, even fans of the 15-time major winner must have had a fair amount of sympathy.

If there was any doubt, Davydenko showed, again, why he'll never win a major.

A feel-good story thanks to his entertaining press conferences, where he discussed drinking, fatherhood and retirement, Davydenko appeared destined for a longer sojourn in Melbourne. He raced to a 6-2, 3-1 lead, having toppled Federer in their previous two meetings in Doha and London.

At that stage, Davydenko's fragile mental state surfaced. Holding the second of two break points for a 4-1 advantage, Federer got a tad lucky from the back of the court, barely getting a wicked Davydenko drive over the net. Virtually standing still, he expected his opponent to put away a short, easy backhand. Davydenko found the net.

"If I'm up 4-1, I have chance to win like 99 percent the second set," Davydenko told reporters. "But change something 3-2. And then I lost everything."

Sure, he plays high-risk tennis, but that was a low-risk shot. And the sun, which bothered Federer, surely didn't get in his eyes.

"That's the beauty of five sets," Federer told reporters. "I wasn't panicking, even though I maybe would have lost the second set."

Cue the landslide. Davydenko lost 13 straight games, claiming 16 points. Federer didn't have to do much. Putting the ball in play was enough most of the time.

"Davydenko went from No. 1 to 400," said Roger Rasheed, a coach and analyst for host broadcaster Channel 7. "He blinked. Roger, as soon as he saw that, did the right thing. He toughened up and didn't make unforced errors."

Davydenko saved a little face by saving a match point at 4-5 in the fourth with a blistering backhand return, then breaking. A brief respite.

The Davydenko serve, which had more zip in London and Doha, was impotent. The latter stages of the affair, he spun it in, the velocity missing. Hence, no free points.

"Today, I had no serve," Davydenko said. Later, he added with a laugh, "Everything was s---."

It brought back memories of the 2007 French Open, when Davydenko lost to Federer in the semis in three razor-close sets. A year earlier in Melbourne, having split the first two sets with the Swiss, Davydenko failed to serve out the third. He was gone in four.

"Maybe Federer got lucky -- again," Davydenko said, accompanied once more by a chuckle.

Federer thus escaped against Davydenko following a first-round scare against another Russian, Igor Andreev. Andreev's slip-up -- wasting three set points in the third on his own serve, with the match even at one set apiece -- was nothing compared to Davydenko's.

What a crazy day. Federer, Serena Williams and Li Na all advanced, with each of their opponents (Davydenko, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka) blowing big leads.

Davydenko shouldn't feel too bad. There's nothing wrong with a lovable loser.