It was supposed to be a nice contrast of styles, when Nikolay Davydenko and Gilles Simon drew each other in the first round in Marseille. The problem with this match-up is that the way Simon plays largely has to do with the way Davydenko plays, so when Davydenko seemed completely unsure of himself and lacking in confidence, it was a bad spectacle all-round. Simon only plays as well as he needs to, and he prefers to use the pace of his opponents.
Davydenko is definitely going through a rough patch at the moment. His game doesn’t even look the same as it did to his off days when he was in the top 5. When he makes large amounts of unforced errors, they’re different kinds of errors. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of racquet acceleration. Short balls are usually the easiest shots for professional players, but it was painful the way Davydenko showed no confidence whenever he had a short forehand to put away for a winner. Instead it was more like, “Oh no, I should hit a winner off this” so he’d aim it near the line but not really try to hit a winner.
The match started strangely with four consecutive breaks. The first set was the battle of two very indecisive players that didn’t know what to do with the ball once they got into an extended rally. The execution of the shots felt half-hearted, which is what happens when you don’t fully believe in the shot you’re trying to hit.
Davydenko was making all kinds of uncharacteristic shot selections. It was the worst to begin with. Most of his shots landed in the middle of the court, the complete opposite from his trademark accurate game. He came into the net from approach shots that landed down the middle of the court, then predictably he’d lose the point up at the net. You know there’s something very wrong with Davydenko when he’s trying to come into the net before he’s even hit a good enough shot. Yet it’s also very strange. It’s more common to stick to a more typical game in poor form, but does he really think he has a better chance at shortening the points and using the net than playing his standard baseline game?
Still Davydenko being willing to extend the rallies and hit with wider margins from the lines than usual kept the match competitive in the first set. Both players returned serve well in the first half of the set. It was like everything was much easier for them when they didn’t have to think about actual rallies and point construction.
The match made a sudden turnaround after Simon became the first player to hold serve for 3-2. I would have thought that would have been the equivalent of a break of serve, but instead they both held serve from then onwards.
Despite the rather drastic change of holds/breaks, the match still had a similar feel to me. I never know what Simon is actually trying to do with the ball while playing. He plays with such a reactive mindset. Even if his tennis isn't defensive all the time, his shot selection is based so much on what his opponent feeds him. Davydenko fed him plenty of errors so he happily took advantage of it.
The first set tie-break was perhaps of the best quality in the match, with more of the typical rallies that I expected from the match. Davydenko had a set point but missed a routine forehand, a pattern which repeated itself many times in the match. Then Simon won the set with a return winner.
In the second set, Davydenko sprayed errors everywhere to go down a double break that by then, I had lost all interest. He tried to play something closer to his usual game, but the more aggressive play didn’t pay off. He was actually close to levelling the set again and recovering the break, but in the end, Simon was able to hold off Davydenko and finish the match later on.