Nalbandian advances to Legg Mason final

On rebound, Argentine wild card will play Baghdatis

August 07, 2010|By Liz Clarke, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — — David Nalbandian's ranking plunged so dramatically while he was sidelined 10 months out of the past 15 — first to recover from hip surgery, then a hamstring injury — that he needed a wild card to enter Washington's Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

Even though he was once No. 3 in the world, little was expected in his first tournament since April. He was, after all, ranked a lowly 117th.

But in a dazzling display of precision and tenacity, the Argentine returned to form Saturday night, eviscerating 13th ranked Marin Cilic of Croatia, 6-2, 6-2, in 73 minutes to earn a spot in today's final.

Nalbandian's opponent will be Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, who has been writing the final chapter of a comeback story of his own. Baghdatis secured his spot in the final earlier Saturday with a 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over Xavier Malisse of Belgium.

Regardless of the outcome, Sunday's final will produce a first-time Legg Mason champion. And though most tournament-goers surely would have preferred that an American hopeful — whether Andy Roddick, John Isner or Sam Querrey — or a more familiar name had advanced to the final, the Nalbandian-Baghdatis showdown is likely to produce spirited tennis between two highly motivated players bent on reclaiming their place in the sport.

Nalbandian, 28, wasted little time in reminding the crowd at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center why elites such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dreaded facing him at his peak. Powerfully built and mentally formidable, Nalbandian revels in wearing opponents down with a barrage of groundstrokes that rarely miss their mark.

"Of course when you spend a lot of time outside the court, you miss the tennis," said Nalbandian, who committed just 12 unforced errors to Cilic's 27, in a post-match interview with ESPN.

Cilic, 21, the tournament's fourth seed, was favored, regarded as the sport's phenom of the moment. At 6-6, he boasts a huge serve and lethal forehand and is especially adept at yanking opponents all over the court with unforgiving angles.

The Baghdatis-Malisse semifinal was a closer contest, marked by admirable sportsmanship, extended rallies and smart shot-making (particularly by Baghdatis).

At 6 feet and 6-1 respectively, Baghdatis and Malisse are athletes of average height who reached the top 20 a few years ago by virtue of the variety in their games.

Wrist injuries sent both tumbling from the top 100. This week's Legg Mason has showcased the next step in their respective comebacks. Baghdatis is now ranked 25th; Malisse, 62nd.

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