Nalbandian earns respect despite Davis Cup defeat
MOSCOW, Dec 4 (Reuters) David Nalbandian has finally earned the respect he deserves.
Despite winning last year's Masters Cup and reaching the 2002 Wimbledon final, the Argentine has long been in the shadow of the game's biggest stars.
But Nalbandian's spectacular performance in the Davis Cup final against Russia over the weekend suggests that he is ready to challenge the tennis elite.
While Argentina were left disappointed after losing the final to Russia 3-2, Nalbandian's superb tennis won many accolades from fellow players and both captains.
''I can't say enough about David's performance,'' Argentina captain Alberto Mancini told reporters yesterday.
''I'm proud of every member of the team because they left everything on the court, but David deserves special praise.
''He was unbelievable, just super all three days, he kept us in the tie until the last match,'' said Mancini.
Nalbandian won both of his singles matches, first crushing former world number one Marat Safin in straight sets on Friday, then overwhelming world number three Nikolay Davydenko in Sunday's opener to level the three-day tie at 2-2.
After losing his match 6-2 6-2 4-6 6-4, Davydenko conceded he was simply outplayed by the Argentine number one.
''To be honest, I was ready to lose in three sets,'' the Russian number one said.
''He dominated the whole match and even after winning the third set I didn't think I had much of a chance. Even if I won the fourth, I don't think I could have lasted much longer.'' The only blemish on the otherwise perfect weekend for Nalbandian was losing Saturday's doubles with team mate Agustin Calleri to Safin and Dmitry Tursunov.
BETTER THAN RODDICK Mancini said that defeat had decided the final outcome.
''The doubles match was the key to the tie,'' he said. ''If we had won on Saturday, coupled with David's great form, it would have given us an almost 80 percent chance of winning the tie. It was a big, big point for them.'' Russia's Davis Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev was equally lavish in his praise of Nalbandian, singling him out for his work ethic and consistency.
''Nalbandian has turned into a complete player,'' said Tarpishchev, who led Russia to their second Davis Cup title.
''He showed that he could play on any surface. Even before the tie, I knew he was their biggest threat and he proved just that. He may lack the star appeal of some of the game's biggest names, like (Roger) Federer, (Rafael) Nadal, (Andy) Roddick or Safin, but his game is up there with the best.'' Roddick lost both of his singles matches in a 3-2 Davis Cup semi-final defeat by Russia on Moscow clay in September, first going down to Safin, then to losing a five-set battle to Tursunov that sealed the tie.
''He (Nalbandian) is better than Roddick, certainly more versatile than the American,'' Tarpishchev said. ''I have feared him more than anyone else. We were just lucky to win the doubles on Saturday, otherwise we would have been in big trouble.'' Reuters DH DB2347