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Nalbandian caps his year with a bang

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After struggling to get the results he'd been seeking for the majority of this 2007 season, David Nalbandian wound up closing out his year as the hottest player on the ATP circuit.

The fierce Argentine failed to land in even one final over the first nine-and- a-half months of the '07 campaign, but the former Tennis Masters Cup champ caught fire in the middle part of last month, and now finds himself ranked ninth in the world thanks to an unlikely pair of Tennis Masters Series shields. He just missed out on the final spot in next week's season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, where he is currently penciled in as the first alternate should someone pull out of the extravaganza before it starts or during its round-robin stage.

The 25-year-old headed to Madrid as a non-seed and exited the event with a lucrative championship, as he shocked, in succession, Rafael Nadal, in straight sets, Novak Djokovic, also in straights, and Roger Federer, in three- set come-from behind fashion, to capture the crown. By beating the reigning three-time French Open champion and two-time Wimbledon runner-up Nadal, the U.S. Open runner-up Djokovic and the reigning five-time Wimbledon, reigning four-time U.S. Open and two-time defending Australian Open titlist Federer, Nalbandian became only the second player since 1994 (Boris Becker) to defeat the top-three players in the world at the same tournament. The outstanding Djokovic turned the trick at the Canadian Masters in Montreal back in August (Federer, Nadal, Andy Roddick). And, when Nalbandian topped Federer in the Madrid finale, he dethroned the reigning champion there in the process.

Prior to his remarkable run in Madrid, Nalbandian had appeared in only one quarterfinal in 15 events this year, losing to U.S. Open semifinalist David Ferrer in Barcelona.

David Nalbandian
David Nalbandian was a perfect 4-0 this year against the top-two players in the world, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Last week in Paris, lightning struck again for Nalbandian, who hoisted another sexy championship trophy by downing Nadal in straight sets in a marquee final, including a stunning bagel effort (6-0) in the second and final set. His biggest upset in Paris, however, came earlier in the week when he toppled Federer in straight sets in a blockbuster third-rounder.

By beating Nadal in Paris, Nalbandian became the only player to post victories over both Federer and Nadal in finals, and also became the first player to best both Federer and Nadal in the same tournament on two separate occasions.

Nalbandian's sweet run in Paris also featured victories over two other expected Masters Cup participants -- Ferrer and Richard Gasquet. All told, he darted past four 2007 Masters Cup qualifiers -- dropping only one set in the process (against Ferrer) -- in order to prevail in the "City of Light." The Argentine's Parisian trek also featured a win over former world No. 1 Carlos Moya, who played solid tennis the second half of this season.

FYI, Nalbandian is the first player to capture the Madrid and Paris Masters back-to-back since Marat Safin in 2004, and he was a perfect 4-0 against the top-two players on the planet (Federer and Nadal) this season. He's 2-0 lifetime versus Nadal, with their first-ever meeting coming in Madrid last month, and the gaucho has yet to drop a set against the powerful Spaniard (4-0).

Note: Nadal had won 25 straight matches in Paris (including the three French Open titles) before falling to the surging Nalbandian. Following the setback, Nadal said that Nalbandian is "one of the best players of the world."

No news flash there.

Surprisingly, the Cordoba (second-largest city in Argentina) native Nalbandian only owns seven career singles titles, but one came at the 2005 Masters Cup and two others came at Masters Series tourneys, and he has a Grand Slam runner-up finish to boot, which he did at Wimbledon in 2002. He's reached 14 career finals, going 7-7 (including 1-2 in a trio of title bouts in Federer's Swiss hometown of Basel), and has reached at least the semifinals at all four of the majors.

Speaking of the great Federer, he's been haunted by a pair of nemeses during his brilliant career -- and they are Nadal and Nalbandian. The gritty Argentine star is a level 8-8 lifetime versus the sublime Swiss, including wins now in their last two tilts. Federer had won four straight and eight of their last nine clashes before last month, but the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Nalbandian captured their first five matchups on tour, including victories at a pair of Grand Slams. The Argentine also topped Federer in the 1998 U.S. Open junior final...so they've been going at it for a while.

Nalbandian is an aggressive baseliner who can play on any surface. His brand of tennis features near-perfect groundstrokes, speed, accuracy and a high- quality return game (a.k.a. tenacious D). His trademark shot is a two-handed backhand down the line.

On the congeniality front, Nalbandian is not considered to be one of the most popular players on the tour, but he does seem to have good relationships with his fellow Argentines.

Nalbandian went just 31-18 in 2007, but by closing out his season with a scorching 12-1 flurry, he did manage to eclipse the $1.2 million mark in earnings, pushing him over the $8.4 million mark for his career.

The grinder that is Nalbandian soared as high as No. 3 in the world in March of last year, and it seems that the only thing that can slow him down is injuries. He's proven that, when healthy, he's clearly a top-five performer on this most grueling of circuits.

Needless to say, Nalbandian is looking forward to a great 2008.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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