Commentary

Mediocrity not OK with Davydenko

Updated: May 3, 2011, 4:28 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

Nikolay Davydenko toughed out a win to reach a quarterfinal for the first time since his opening tournament of the season in January, and yet he wasn't pleased.

Instead, the slender Russian adopted the glass half-empty stance, unhappy he couldn't put away qualifier Julian Reister -- who is barely ranked inside the top 100 -- more convincingly at Munich's BMW Open. Davydenko lost the opening set, twice served to stay in the match in the second, and survived a nervy tiebreaker before coasting in the third.

"If I win tomorrow, then I'm happy because I beat a top player, a good player," said Davydenko in a phone interview, customarily blending a matter-of-fact approach with humor. "But I played a first-round match against a qualifier, and a second-round match also."

As it turned out, Davydenko would be in much better spirits.

Not only did he oust one of last year's finalists, Marin Cilic, in the quarterfinals, altering the complexion of the encounter by saving set points in the first, but Davydenko proceeded to win the entire tournament. He downed an in-form and homegrown opponent, Florian Mayer, in Sunday's BMW Open final to snap a 16-month title drought.

The victory was sweeter since Mayer handed Davydenko a tough loss in the opening round of the Australian Open.

The result improved Davydenko's ranking from 40th to 28th, and with nothing to defend until early June and not much to defend through 2011, he can look onward. Prior to this year, Davydenko hadn't been in the 40s in the rankings since the end of 2004.

He'd like to return to the top 20 and eventually the top 10. Armed with his attacking, often breathtaking baseline game and potent returns, he finished in the top 10 five straight years from 2005 to 2009.

"Every match is important for me," said Davydenko, who turns 30 in June, beating Roger Federer by two months. "For sure if I play good in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros, it will give me points."

But Davydenko, considered one of the best active players never to win a major, isn't getting ahead of himself. Some uncertainty remains.

Davydenko has fiddled with his Dunlop racket, for one. He is also trying to sort out his coaching situation and isn't completely healthy.

Slightly twisting his ankle in Saturday's semifinals was the least, yet latest, of his concerns. Davydenko has been playing with a sore shoulder, which affected him primarily in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo. In those three Masters events, he went 1-3.

The discomfort resurfaced against Reister.

"If I call the [trainer], it doesn't really help in a minute," he said.

Davydenko missed around three months in 2010 because of a broken left wrist, although he had pain for longer. A wrong diagnosis meant Davydenko, a right-hander, played a match -- and won -- with the dodgy wrist in Indian Wells. Upon coming back, he struggled, unable to win back-to-back matches in his first seven tournaments.

Even if the wrist is now 100 percent, Davydenko's manager, Ronnie Leitgeb, doesn't expect pre-injury form for several months. For Leitgeb, it's indeed a question of when, not if.

[+] EnlargeNikolay Davydenko
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesNikolay Davydenko, a former top-10 stalwart, has won only two tournaments in the past two years.

"Twenty years ago, we used to say that if you were out for six, seven, eight months, it takes double the time to return to the same level," said Leitgeb, the former coach of world No. 1 Thomas Muster. "That was an old rule. I think it's going to take probably until mid-summer for him to be in good shape."

Leitgeb called Davydenko's four-set loss to Mayer in Melbourne a "terrible" match that tore into his client's confidence -- in his game and racket. Davydenko ended the 2010 Australian Open in terrible fashion, too, crumbling against Federer in the quarterfinals despite being in control. Since he'd defeated Federer and Rafael Nadal five straight times heading in and triumphed at the World Tour Finals, it was probably Davydenko's greatest chance at bagging a Grand Slam.

Davydenko has traversed the circuit with wife -- and fill-in coach -- Irina for nearly eight years, but his brother and main coach, Eduard, is becoming less of a fixture after deciding to spend more time working with his tennis-playing son. The brothers combined in Munich and intend to hook up for anywhere between 10-15 tournaments in 2011, including Rome and the French Open.

As for the other 10 or 15 events, Davydenko might recruit someone else, either a coach or physiotherapist.

"My wife is always with me, but maybe I need some help from another side," Davydenko said.

Maybe, indeed, as Davydenko couldn't keep his winning streak going, losing to Spanish wild card Marcel Granollers 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of the Madrid Open on Tuesday.

He isn't fussed about entering tennis' equivalent of older age, nor does he mind being away from the spotlight. Davydenko still prefers to keep a lower profile, so contesting his Munich opener on Court 13 as the seventh seed wasn't a problem.

But isn't there a tiny part of Davydenko that craves the attention he received at last year's Australian Open, when he was dubbed "Mr. Personality" by Serena Williams?

He laughs for a second before responding.

"No," Davydenko began. "But I know it always depends on my results. If I play good, then press will come back again."

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.