Age no barrier to Rotterdam QFs for Federer, Davydenko, Nieminen

Nikolay Davydenko is one of a growing band of 30-year-olds still plying their trade and still playing energetic tennis

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis in Rotterdam
roger federer
Roger Federer reached the quarter-finals in Rotterdam after Mikhail Youzhny withdrew Photo: M Bevis

roger federer

The spell-binding tennis of Richard Gasquet seems to have been around the upper reaches of this sport for years.

He turned pro 10 years ago; reached his first tour final eight years ago; won his first title in 2005; broke the top 20 a year later; hit the top 10 in 2007.

Yet alongside the remaining men who will fight it out for a semi-final place in the top half of the Rotterdam 500 draw, Gasquet is a mere beginner—just 25.

Indeed, of the 10 men who have played out the second round here in the Ahoy arena, only Juan Martin del Potro, at 23, is younger.

Gasquet knocked out the 28-year-old Alex Bogomolov Jr in both style and speed, a sparkling 6-3, 6-2, hour-and-a-quarter transition to a quarter-final match against a man with 21 titles to his name, former world No3 Nikolay Davydenko.

The slight Russian with the crisp, bullet-sharp ground strokes and acute angles is one of a growing band of 30-year-olds still plying their trade and still playing energetic tennis. In Davydenko’s case, he is in Rotterdam for the ninth time and a former semi-finalist—most recently in 2010.

Yet he has won only two titles since the biggest win of his career at the World Tour Finals in November 2009 and continues to search for his old form in 2012. He has won just two matches out of five to drop outside the top 50 for the first time since 2004.

Since arriving in the Netherlands, he has won two more but, as luck would have it, he now faces the last man to beat him, a fortnight ago in Montpellier: Gasquet.

And as luck would have it, should Davydenko win that match, he may then face the man who beat him in Doha in January for the loss of just four games, Roger Federer.

The Swiss, amid hundreds of column inches of publicity that still threads its way into most stories, also turned 30 last year, and he and Davydenko go back a very long way.

They first met 10 years ago in Milan, where Federer won the first of 16 matches from their 18 meetings.

Perhaps Davydenko will take consolation from the fact that his two wins have come on hard courts, one of them on the indoor courts of the O2.

What must surely dent his confidence, however, is the run of form that Federer has shown since that 30th birthday last August. After a semi-final finish at the US Open, he did not lose a match until the semi-finals of the Australian Open, a run of 25 matches that included three back-to-back indoor titles.

What will worry the Russian even more, should he choose to tune into any of Federer’s conversations in Rotterdam, is just how relaxed and confident the Swiss appears to be in both head and body. Take yesterday, immediately after his first-round win.

“It was a pleasure coming in with a standing ovation, going out with a standing ovation—the atmosphere—I could really feel the buzz. It really gave me a spring in my step, I felt like I was really pumped up to play, and eager. I enjoyed it.”

Or his mind-set for the remainder of the tournament.

“In a way, it’s a perfect schedule [having a day off] but for it to be perfect I need to win the next match, and then I really think I could play some amazing tennis in the semis.” The semis being against either Davydenko or Gasquet.

Federer has played the Frenchman—who many dubbed ‘the new Federer’ when he beat the ‘old’ Federer in their first meeting in 2005—11 times before and has lost to him only twice and only on clay.

Before that, though, Federer has, like he said, to win his next match, and that one is against the third 30-year-old of the top-half quartet.

And if the prospects for Davydenko are poor, for Jarkko Nieminen they are even worse. They first played in 2002 and last played in Basel last November, a run of 12 wins for Federer.

Is there any ray of light for the Finn? Well he won his first ever set from Federer in that last Basel meeting and took Federer to two tie-breaks in Basel in 2008. And the Swiss drew very close parallels between his home tournament and the Rotterdam event.

“[Rotterdam] reminds a little bit of my home tournament in Basel because when I come on court it is a sold-out crowd, when I leave the court, people go for a drink and come back whenever they want to come back. And my tournament in Basel is exactly like that for the five matches I play, the focus is me and this feels pretty much the same here.”

Nieminen knows already that he will be playing both Federer and most of the 10,000 spectators when the two take to court tomorrow. Perhaps he will draw some strength from the fact that his 30-year-old body has played half as many matches as Federer’s—560 compared with more than a 1,000.

Perhaps he will draw on the knowledge that he won his first title in six years last month. Most likely, it seems, he will simply be left to enjoy the best seat in the house.

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