‘Victory over Roger Federer is the biggest one of my career,’ says former rival

Ten years after becoming a pro, Nikolay Davydenko played his best season on the Tour in 2009. The Russian won five titles, including his maiden Masters 1000 crown in Shanghai and the first edition of the ATP Finals in London. Nikolay suffered an early loss in Paris to Robin Soderling and had enough time to prepare for the elite ATP event that had moved from Shanghai to London. In the repeat of the last year’s final, Davydenko won the opening set against the defending champion Novak Djokovic before falling in three tight sets. Then, the Russian beat Rafael Nadal and Robin Soderling to reach the semis. Davydenko faced the most formidable rival on November 28, seeking his first victory over Roger Federer in 13 encounters!

The Russian overpowered the Swiss 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in an hour and 56 minutes for the ATP Finals back-to-back title matches. Federer had to survive a tight group with Fernando Verdasco, Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Murray, and he still had chances in this one. The Swiss stood just two points away from the victory in the deciding set’s tenth game before losing three straight games to end his run in the semis. Davydenko served at only 54% but did his best to defend his initial shot and stay in touch with Federer, taking five points more than the 15-time Major champion and saving four out of six break points to keep the pressure on the other side.

Roger’s first serve worked like a charm, but the second caused him trouble, having to play against five break chances and dropping serve four times to stay away from the title chase. Federer kicked off the match with three winners in the opening game and had an opportunity to score an instant break in the next one. Nikolay repelled two break points to avoid an early setback and leveled the score at 1-1 after Federer’s forehand error. The Swiss sprayed another mistake from the forehand wing to get broken at 1-1, and the Russian moved 3-1 up after a service winner.

Nikolay Davydenko defeated Roger Federer at the ATP Finals 2009.

Davydenko played another rock-solid game on the return to break Roger at love and extend the gap to 4-1 before losing serve a few minutes later. Federer finally found a way to impose his strokes and draw some errors from his opponent to remain competitive. Instead of reducing the deficit, Roger still struggled behind the initial shot, serving under 40% and falling 5-2 down after Nikolay’s third straight break. Serving for the set, Davydenko held at 15 in game eight to grab the opener 6-2 in 30 minutes. He outplayed Federer completely and moved a set away from a place in the final. With no room for errors, Roger sailed through his service games in set number two and scored a late break at 5-4 to clinch it and build momentum ahead of the decider. Unlike the opener, Federer could step in and take the ball early, hitting 40% of the shots from inside the court and taking the timing off from Davydenko’s strokes to forge the upper hand in the exchanges.

It was all about servers in the third set’s opening nine games, with just five points lost and no deuces or break chances. Roger moved 30-0 in front on the return at 5-4 and got closer to the finish line. Nikolay remained focused and claimed the following four points to level the score at 5-5. He stayed in touch in the next one and fired a return winner that gave him a crucial break. With no will to surrender, Federer created a break chance in the 12th game with a beautiful backhand crosscourt winner. Davydenko denied it with a forehand winner and earned a match point with a service winner. He forced Roger’s error to wrap up the victory, his first in 13 matches against the great Swiss! 

“My most significant victory came against Roger Federer in the ATP Finals semi-final in London 2009, since I never beat him before. I had wins against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and everyone in the top-10, but not Roger Federer. After that, things were much easier for me in the title match against Juan Martin del Potro,” Nikolay Davydenko said.